Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
My name is Naina Sloan. I'm the Senior Executive Director of the Indigenous Partnerships Office - West at Natural Resources Canada.
I would like to start by acknowledging the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin people and by thanking you for this opportunity to address members of the committee as you begin your study on international best practices for engaging indigenous communities on major energy projects. It's timely and important work, and it's certainly top of mind for us every day at Natural Resources Canada, or NRCan, as we deliver on the government's commitment to advance reconciliation and renew Canada's relationship with indigenous peoples.
I hope to illustrates that with some specific examples, but I would first like to introduce my colleague Jeff Labonté, who is the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Major Projects Management Office at Natural Resources Canada.
Jeff is joining us today because of his expertise on major resource projects and how these projects directly affect indigenous communities.
Natural Resources Canada is responsible for forestry, mining, energy and land-related sciences and geospatial information. We have labs and regional offices spread across Canada staffed with scientists and a variety of program officials.
Work in our department involves collaboration with provincial and territorial partners, universities, industry and indigenous communities.
At NRCan it is paramount that this work includes recognizing indigenous peoples' unique connections to the land and resources and their unique perspectives, knowledge and interests in major natural resource projects. While major resource projects can be controversial, they can also be a place where best practices emerge and reconciliation is advanced.
Consider forestry, where we have, for example, a history of collaborating with indigenous peoples. This sector is an important generator of jobs, particularly in rural and remote parts of the country. We are innovating together in the forest sector to build a cleaner future. For example, with federal support a Tsay Keh Dene Nation-owned company is working to assess the feasibility of using biomass to generate heat and power on their land. Once completed, this project would be among the first of its kind to heat and power an indigenous community in British Columbia.
If we think about energy, for example, through the clean energy for rural and remote communities program, CERRC, we are collaborating with indigenous communities as they advance renewable energy and capacity-building projects to reduce their reliance on diesel. For example, CERRC is supporting an energy literacy skills and training program for youth from 22 remote first nations in Ontario aimed at connecting them to jobs related to the Watay transmission project.
Of course, there is mining, where indigenous peoples account for 12% of the labour force, making this the second-highest proportional employer of indigenous peoples among private sector employers in Canada.
Then there is the science and traditional knowledge that informs what we do. In all of this our natural resources and indigenous communities are closely connected.
NRCan continues to make progress in working with indigenous partners. We're guided in this by, of course, our Constitution, the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and evolving jurisprudence.
Natural Resources Canada's mandate priorities reinforce this as well, to ensure Canada's resource sector remains a source of jobs, prosperity and opportunity, and meets the core responsibility to help get our resources to market.
I will now focus on three ways in which we are engaging with indigenous peoples: first, by building strong relationships; second, finding better ways to advance our shared interests; and third, sharing information and knowledge as a way of increasing our capacity to work together.
On building relationships, early and ongoing engagement is an important foundation for our work with indigenous peoples. It allows us to find opportunities to collaborate, identify issues of interest or concern, and enable greater indigenous participation. For example, our department is leading the way on including indigenous leadership in federal, provincial and territorial fora such as the Energy and Mines Ministers' Conference and the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers.
Indigenous leadership is also included in international delegations, such as Canada's recent trade missions to Mexico and India.
We are ensuring indigenous voices are heard domestically in initiatives such as Generation Energy, which was the single-largest dialogue on energy in Canadian history.
We are also targeting investments through programs such as the indigenous forestry initiative, which supports indigenous-led economic development in the forestry sector.
We have piloted community-driven engagement efforts in British Columbia and Alberta to address indigenous priorities related to west coast energy infrastructure. This initiative provided the capacity for engagement between federal officials and indigenous communities on energy infrastructure projects. Our goal was to identify issues of concern to communities and take concrete actions to address indigenous interests related to jobs and economic growth, environmental action, fish habitat restoration, and engagement. Building relationships has been key to all of this work.
The second area we're focused on is finding better ways to advance shared interests. This means moving beyond early engagement to co-development. We have found that joint leadership and co-design offer a more certain path to identifying shared interests and enabling diverse parties to work together. Here are a couple of concrete examples: We are working with indigenous communities to create Impact Canada's off-diesel initiative, building healthier, greener and more energy-resilient communities. We also co-developed the indigenous advisory and monitoring committees, IAMCs, to oversee the Trans Mountain expansion and Line 3 projects.
As part of the IAMCs, we co-developed indigenous monitoring pilot projects, which enabled indigenous monitors to work alongside inspectors from federal regulators during site visits and inspections. The pilots resulted in frameworks that detail how federal regulators can incorporate indigenous perspectives and observations into their compliance verification activities.
This process of sharing perspectives and interests, planning together, testing new approaches, debriefing and then refining frameworks together has resulted in indigenous monitors and NEB inspectors, for example, being able to work together in ways that otherwise would not have been possible. In the words of our indigenous partners, these pilots are putting indigenous boots on the ground and protecting the lands and waters.
The third area I'll speak to is sharing information and knowledge. Here, for example, the geomapping for energy and minerals program bridges western science and indigenous traditional knowledge. It does this by including local indigenous peoples in field studies and in developing innovative approaches that support economic growth and job creation. By sharing perspectives, interests, knowledge and approaches, we've found new ways of working together.
Before I close, you may be interested to know that many of the actions and activities that I've just shared with you are of great interest to other jurisdictions.
For example, through the Canada-Mexico Partnership, the Mexican government requested support from experts within our department to inform their development of new legislation around mining and indigenous consultation.
Representatives of the Chilean government visited Ottawa in September 2018 to discuss indigenous consultations, in the context of major project reviews and engagement with indigenous peoples, and are now looking to establish a model based on Natural Resources Canada's approach.
Natural Resources Canada is changing how we work with indigenous peoples in all resource sectors by creating lasting relationships that respect and recognize their rights.
We are supporting early indigenous engagement, co-developing new ways of working together and strengthening our capacity to learn and act on our shared interests.
Finally, Natural Resources Canada is committed to continuing to deepen this engagement with indigenous communities on major resource projects.
I thank you for your attention and look forward to your questions.