It's a pleasure and an honour to be here. My name is Chief Isaac Ausinis Laboucan-Avirom. I'm from the Woodland Cree First Nation. I was grand chief of the Treaty No. 8 territory not too long ago, grand chief of my tribal council, but today I'm here just as chief of my first nation. I'd like to say that I know that this is a good effort to do, but this is not in consultation with other first nations. I don't want to be accountable....
As for Woodland Cree, we are surrounded by natural resource activity, from oil and gas development to forestry to green energy projects like Site C. There are always negative and positive impacts when doing resource development, but we're in a day and age in which there has to be more accountability to first nations communities and to the environment. We have to make sure we're making good decisions so that we can have sustainability and so that generations of our children can grow in a country that is not fully polluted and that still has healthy jobs for people to get to.
You have to forgive me; I'm supposed to be on spring break, and my executive assistant is on spring break, so I'll be jumping back and forth in some of my notes here.
Companies should be encouraged to develop some understanding of the legal and constitutional rights of first nations. In Canada, first nations were not defeated in war. We have treaties. These treaty rights are constitutionally protected. Many international companies do not understand this, and they come from different perspectives. From my understanding of this, sometimes it gets very difficult when we are dealing with this mindset. We have to re-educate them and tell them who we are and why we have our rights. A best practice would include an educational component for international companies to understand the landscape in Canada so that first nations don't have to consistently recreate this work.
You know, one of the biggest struggles for first nations is that we are always looking for better and better human capacity. As I look around this room, I know that some of the best mindsets in Canada are here. As a first nations chief, sometimes I'm obligated to work with some of the best on the other side of the table, where I'm going against people such.... They used to be Shell, CNRL...where they have some of the best minds money can buy.
In order to have meaningful consultation, first nations need to have the capacity to understand the technical aspects of the projects, communicate information to community members, and gather information from community members and knowledge-keepers. This takes much more funding than is currently offered by Canada. The nation spends a lot of time and energy building the case for capacity funding and negotiating capacity funding, etc. The time and energy would be better spent actually engaging in the consultation and the search for accommodation measures. Best practices should include a requirement to provide adequate funding, which could be expressed as a percentage of the amount the company expects to spend on environmental, geotechnical and other types of studies.
I have the example of Site C. I'll be jumping back and forth between oil and gas and other resource departments. I had lawyers come to my nation one time, saying that they wanted to build Site C. My nation does not have monies to spend on lawyers. We'd rather build houses and put money into education and the elders. One of the questions I asked the Site C legal team was around what environmental impacts would be caused. They said, oh, there won't be much. Well, they'd be extinguishing two species of fish in the reservoir, the Arctic grayling and the goldeye. It doesn't take a university individual to understand that this has a direct impact on other ecological systems. Those are feeder fish for bigger fish, etc. Woodland Cree at that time did not have a million dollars to spend in the courts, so it's something.... And then also through the consultation process, that the borders between Alberta and B.C....said that the consultation process was basically a no-go zone.
Indigenous knowledge and input from the community should be incorporated into all aspects of the environment and social investigations into the projects. A best practice would include encouraging companies to look at the inclusion of indigenous communities through project development, design and implementation. Ultimately, the goal of any best practice would be to actually arrive at a meaningful mitigation or accommodation of impacts. When I think of meaningful consultation, that means I know exactly what the other side of the table, the proponent producer, is talking about.
When I look at these bills such as Bill C-69, I see this is just an example of where, at one of my chiefs meetings in Alberta, we condoned it, and then just last week we rescinded it. That's a good example of how it was so complex and misunderstood, and then now we're sitting here today where it's already gone so far in the process. I don't believe there was proper and meaningful consultation on Bill C-48 and Bill C-69, and we're at a place where we shouldn't be at.
In most cases today, the parties have become much better at exchanging information, but there is still a resistance to making meaningful changes to the projects to lessen impacts on traditional land uses and resistance to involving indigenous communities in long-term economic development benefits.
Woodland is one nation that has been working hard to make strong and meaningful partnerships with business to develop business capacities, local employment, etc., but these have to be long-term opportunities not just brush-clearing and construction.
Woodland Cree needs to get into the business of developing and eventually owning resources such as the Eagle Spirit pipeline. I am on the chiefs' committee of that group. I can only talk so much to companies. Yes, they will nod their head and they will say yes, we tried, but if we were actually owners and operators of those companies, then our corporate values would follow that company.
For example, if I'm an owner of a company, I want to say I want to be the best in the world. I want to make that pipeline as indestructible as we can. I know there's technology and the abilities to do that. We're at this meeting today to be the best in the world, and I know we can do that.
It also goes into trading aspects of it. If we had ownership of these pipelines, then we could tell our customers that they need a better environmental standard on the products they develop from our resources.
Best practices would include encouraging companies to dig into business development with indigenous communities to share with them what types of businesses should also be pursued in order to support the project. Companies should also be willing to learn about capacities that different first nations have to offer. If both parties come to the table with a willingness to share information and work together to build first nations' capacity, then we will achieve meaningful accommodation.
Sometimes the feds are typically avoiding absolutely any language in the question that alludes to free, prior and informed consent. There are also quite a few articles written specifically about this within UNDRIP. We know this, especially if we're looking internationally.
There is no perfect international example of projects. However, projects in Bolivia entrenched the rights of nature—they actually used “mother earth” in Spanish—using indigenous law. New Zealand protected the rivers using Maori law. The Sami have a parliament and can pass laws in their territory. If a corporation has personhood, so then should the same things that make first nations....
Project approval currently only represents one culture's law and relations with the land. In order for a project to be truly collaborative and successful from a first nations' viewpoint, it should also respect our culture and our laws too.
That can seem almost impossible when our laws in Canada aren't respected or admitted into courts of regulatory.... If we want projects to go through, then consent is the only way.