Outlook 2020: First Nations economic reconciliation to continue

The LNG Canada project in Kitimat is expected to bring unprecedented economic opportunity to the Haisla and other B.C. First Nations | BIV files

To say the least, Canada’s First Nations have been playing in an unequal playing field for a long time. But I can confidently say the tides are turning – and, I believe, will continue to turn throughout the next decade.

First Nations have spent years fighting to reclaim our basic rights to our lands, to practise our culture and to self-govern. We have advocated for the right to be part of the discussions that lead to decisions and projects that impact the everyday lives of our people, now and in the future. As the late Heber Maitland, a former Haisla Nation elected chief councillor, once said, “All we want is a share and a say.”

In this last decade the Haisla Nation finally did get a share and a say.

As part of the $40 billion LNG Canada project, we negotiated agreements that allowed us to protect our environment in a way that is based on our input, priorities, and needs. The agreements also gave us the ability to invest in programs we believe can help empower this generation of Haisla and those who follow us.

We have also developed positive relationships with many other proponents in our territory, and have become equal partners, with a share and say, in their projects.

Many other First Nations – the Nisga’a and the Tahltan to name two – are taking similar steps, sitting at the table with industry, not only participating in discussions and projects but leading them too.

While this means economic growth for our First Nations, the most important impact has been the improvement in the physical, mental and social well-being of our people. Feelings of hope and pride are back.

For the Haisla Nation the last decade represents a shift in what is possible in relationships between industry and First Nations. We are no longer on opposite sides of the table. Instead we work together, share decision-making and create mutually beneficial outcomes.

For the Haisla Nation, the next decade will see B.C.’s Bill 41, based on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and passed unanimously in the legislature in late November, change what is possible in our relationship with the government. Bill 41 lays the groundwork for a more positive, mutually advantageous and – most importantly – legally supported, consent-based relationship.

No one knows the exact implications of Bill 41. As these things go, it could be messy and confusing. It will take time to sort out and clarify. But the fact that UNDRIP has been enshrined in a provincial act puts a focus on economic reconciliation like never before.

Bill 41 enshrines the right of B.C.’s Indigenous people to participate in all decision-making that affects our interests. It affirms a new approach to Indigenous rights and issues that entails moving forward, together, in a way that we all have that “share and a say.”

The Haisla Nation will continue to advocate for our rights and the rights of all First Nations. We will continue to support responsible development in our territory and in the world overall. And we will continue to build positive partnerships with respectful proponents and the government.

We look forward to seeing what this new relationship model will look like. And we look forward to sitting at the table and being part of those discussions with our fellow Nations and partners.

Happy 2020!

Crystal Smith is chief councillor of the Haisla Nation.