First, I would like to acknowledge I am giving this presentation on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people.
Members of the committee, friends and relatives, thank you for the invitation here today to share the perspectives of the Assembly of First Nations on international best practices for engaging with indigenous communities in major energy projects.
I would like to start with the important point from our national chief, Perry Bellegarde, who said that first nations are not opposed to the development, but we will balance what is right for the economy with what is right for the environment and our responsibilities to our traditional territories.
Clearly, when we consider the energy and mining sectors and how important they are to our local, regional and national economies, I am again reminded how closing the gap must be part of the energy discussion.
A key component of closing this gap is fulfilling the promise of a nation-to-nation relationship with clear decision-making processes through partnerships. This is a key component of achieving consensus—to realize a process that all Canadians and first nations can have confidence in.
We have been working in partnership to identify and address transboundary mining issues that impact our territories. This is reflective of some of the collaborative work that has been occurring in British Columbia. One of the examples I would like to give is our relationship with the Colville confederated tribes who reside in Washington state. The majority of our people reside in Washington, Idaho and Montana. They are Nsyilxcen-speaking peoples who are still members of our tribal council. One of the issues that came out of impacts to mining was a resulting case in the United States where they took Teck Cominco to court and successfully had a lawsuit against them for downstream damages from Teck Cominco, which is located in the Canadian portion outside of Trail, British Columbia. They were dumping tailings into the Columbia River for well over 100 years.
This resulting court case that had been launched and was successful found in U.S. courts that the Canadian mining firm, Teck Cominco, could be charged with damages to U.S. downstream effects.
The other part of this is that to date, through the Columbia.... This was starting in about 1946, with building the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington state. Canada had identified that there were no upstream impacts, resulting in not only the building of Grand Coulee Dam—half of it on Colville Reservation—but leading to Chief Joseph. I think there are upstream treaty and non-treaty reservoirs that serve this high-head dam for energy production in the United States, which basically benefits Canada in that particular area.
What I find is that sometimes people say hydroelectric energy is clean energy. No, it's not—not from an aboriginal context and the impacts to aboriginal people when you change the natural hydrograph to one that is developed along filling reservoirs that slow down the speed of the water where what was usually freshets carrying smolt salmon to the Pacific Ocean. It also impedes upstream migration of Okanagan sockeye that travel through nine dams in the United States.
Two or three years ago, we had changes. What happens in the Okanagan system is that in the water column, deoxidized water happens at a certain level where fish, especially salmon, can't survive. You have what's called thermal blockage, where salmon in the Columbia River can withstand temperatures to 22°C. When you have a dam, the water changes; it almost decants, where it takes off the surface of the water and flows into the next reservoir.
In the summer months you also have heated water that's flowing down through the systems that ended up in the Rufus Woods Reservoir in Washington state. As a result of this squeeze, we lost 200,000 of a return of 400,000 sockeye. At one time in the 1990s we had fewer than 600 sockeye returning to the Canadian portion. The Okanagan system is basically the only system within the Columbia Basin where we still have anadromous species returning to Canadian waters, which happens in the Okanagan sub-basin.
This is an example of a measurable outcome or impact of what would be classified as a major energy project.
To move along in there, I think the fact that in a 2015 report, an independent working group on natural resources called for immediate action to ensure all first nations participate and share in benefits of natural resources development in Canada. Recommendations included the establishment of a national round table inviting first nations, provinces, territories, industry and non-governmental organizations; the launch of a discussion on resource revenue sharing as the best means of eliminating socio-economic disparities; the establishment of central knowledge and information resources to support first nations; and the international forum to promote first nations trade and international partnerships.
First nations as rights holders, as owners and as a burgeoning labour market force must be participants in and part of solutions going forward. First nations businesses must be included in contracting processes and benefits from procedural procurement opportunities. Processes must bring together mechanisms that involve licensing, engagement and good practices.
The energy sector and, in fact, the broader Canadian economy is a much-needed partner and not excluded from the work towards a renewed relationship.
When we're talking about reconciliation, I think from a first nations perspective we really need to come to what is actually a definition of “reconciliation”. You look in the dictionary for an example or a meaning of reconciliation, and it is a renewal of relations after a long period of hostilities, which basically describes first nations' relations with Canada for a long period of time, whether it's with Canada or the provinces.
What is the definition of what we're using for reconciliation? Is it more or less the international model that could be actually construed as being an example of what happened after the Second World War with Germany, Italy and Japan being able to rebuild socially and economically? Is that the type of reconciliation we're talking about, or is it something less? Because with first nations I think we need the opportunity to rebuild, not only socially but economically. Major projects play a large role in that.
Before we get into specific examples, I want to start by framing where we are. This is an opportunity for real reconciliation. First, as we're well aware, Canada has announced its full and unqualified support of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This declaration did not create any new rights as these rights are inherent or pre-existing; it simply affirms indigenous peoples' human rights.
Across government, including Bill C-262, we talked about realizing these rights and finding a better way to work together so that we don't have to spend millions of dollars and waste years in fighting the courts. Poor environmental processes lead to hundreds of unnecessary judicial reviews annually. Partnerships with first nations must respect and realize existing rights. It's about working with us to establish the laws, policies and practices needed to respect our rights and status as self-determining peoples.
Inevitably, the conversation will slip to the standard of free, prior and informed consent. To be very clear, free and prior informed consent was not created in the UNDRIP or the rights of indigenous peoples. It was not created in Bill C-69 or in Bill C-262. It was already existing in international law.
It is an essential element of the right of all peoples, including indigenous peoples, to self-determination, which Canada has recognized for decades. For example, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, have, in their first article, that “All peoples have the right of self-determination.”
Consent is essential for nation-to-nation negotiation and for treaty interpretation, treaty-making in general. It is between self-determining nations. The first nations already have the right to participate in decisions that can affect their rights, property, cultures, environment and capacity to exercise their right to self-determination.
What does this mean in the context of this study? What is needed is a better process for major energy projects, one that is designed with first nations, one that involves first nations from the start. There is no need to reinvent the wheel here. Free, prior and informed consent exists around the world. There is already a lot of international jurisprudence to draw on.
On first nations leading the energy transition, when given the space, first nations have participated in and benefited from energy development.
As many of you already know, first nations across Turtle Island are achieving investments in clean energy and low-carbon economy. These investments are being supported by an aggressive Government of Canada approach to investing in energy sector projects that support the transition to a low-carbon economy: generation, transmission and export. For example, the federal budget commits $2.37 billion over four years to Canada's clean technology industry. As well, the government outlines its plan to invest $21.9 billion over 11 years in green infrastructure.
Our teachings have taught us to be stewards of the land. With that, first nations can be champions when it comes to clean energy and alternative energy moving forward. As a result, first nations are increasingly joining Canada's growing clean energy economy as a way to generate revenue in a manner that is consistent with our cultural and environmental values.
A focus of these efforts must be to encourage and support energy independence and assist with the transition away from diesel power generation for approximately 112 diesel-dependent first nations across Canada, 42 first nations in the territories and 70 first nations in the provinces.
One of the Generation Energy Council's five principles is “A collaborative transition … integrating Indigenous values into the process at every step and creating opportunities for reconciliation and new partnerships with Indigenous peoples.” In this report developed by the council, it's recommended that indigenous peoples have involvement in energy governance, investment tools and capacity development.
Last year, the Assembly of First Nations hosted a one-day session in advance of the Generation Energy Council process. The consistent theme from that discussion was a need for collaboration with first nations, a true and meaningful engagement, and federal government and territorial policy.
There is more, but my 10 minutes are up.