OTTAWA – Representatives of the federal government are in British Columbia this week to hear from First Nations about their concerns over the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and other energy projects in Western Canada.
The Vancouver meetings were arranged earlier this month to give top bureaucrats from seven federal departments an opportunity to hear aboriginals’ views on energy and infrastructure projects.
Chief Andy Phillips of the Scowlitz First Nation said the main topic of conversation at a meeting held Monday was the government’s plans for resource development.
“We talked about current mechanisms and environmental processes and whether they were working or not,” Phillips said Tuesday.
The government officials mostly listened to the First Nations representatives and offered few solutions to their concerns, Phillips added. No industry representatives were at the meetings, he said.
“It was good to have that range of departments coming together to have a better understanding of some of the challenges on First Nations communities, especially in terms of the diversity here in B.C.,” Phillips said.
Last week, some First Nations representatives said they did not think the federal government could say or offer anything in the meetings that would lead them to drop their opposition to some of the pipeline projects.
The task now for officials and politicians in Ottawa is to find a way forward that allays the concerns of First Nations and allows energy projects to move ahead. This week’s meetings appear to be an early step toward reaching that goal.
Some of the federal officials will stay in Vancouver for at least part of the week. Grand Chief Don Kelly of the Sto:lo Tribal Council said he has a meeting Wednesday with “two, maybe three” of the deputy ministers.
Aboriginal representatives invited to the meetings included Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, Grand Chief Edward John of the First Nations Summit and Jody Wilson-Raybould of the Assembly of First Nations.
The meeting comes after the Conservative government’s point man on First Nations and energy issues in Western Canada reportedly told Prime Minister Stephen Harper that aboriginal negotiations were not going well.
Vancouver lawyer Doug Eyford has been travelling to First Nations communities across Western Canada and will deliver a final report on his findings by the end of November. He was not at Monday’s meeting, Phillips said.
The invitation to Monday’s meeting said it was not meant to replace the federal government’s legal obligation to consult Aboriginal Peoples about actions that may impact their treaty rights.