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First Nations reject province’s consultation policy

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By Shari Narine Sweetgrass Contributing Editor EDMONTON







First Nations are not impressed with the province’s newest draft policy on consultation.

“I suspect the Chiefs are going to reject it because it’s father-knows-best again,” said Alberta Regional Chief Cameron Alexis, with the Assembly of First Nations. “The provincial government is deciding they want to move on this but they’re deciding what content is going to be in there and that’s what the Chiefs don’t agree on. It’s supposed to be cohesive, collective, agreed-upon approach, and that’s not what we’re seeing.”

In early April, the province released its draft consultation policy which is to guide First Nations and corporations in the development of Crown lands. The First Nations Consultation Policy on Land and Natural Resource Management allows the province to “seek to reconcile First Nations’ Treaty rights and First Nations’ traditional uses with Alberta’s mandate to manage provincial Crown lands and resources.”

Alexis says this policy, which is a revision of the 2006 policy, sees little change from the one developed seven years ago. Chiefs rejected the 2006 consultation policy.

“The Alberta government really needs to look at listening to the First Nations. Let’s work on this together and let’s develop something that is meaningful and is going to reach out to all First Nations people right from trappers to users of the land. We have to look at all of that. It’s not just pure economics,” he said.

In a strongly worded news release, Onion Lake Cree Nation Chief Wallace Fox accused the government of treating First Nations like “some third party stakeholder interest… (and) urge(d) the province to follow its framework for consultation principles, to act in good faith, to consult with us as Treaty First Nations and to really listen and ensure our information we provide is really implemented.”
The policy calls for the creation of a centralized consultation office, which would fall under the umbrella of Alberta Aboriginal Relations. The consultation office would determine whether consultations with First Nations are required on a project-to-project basis; the scope of consultation required; and which First Nations needs to be consulted.

“The importance of (consultation) is what they’re limiting the most. If that is going to be a process and if that’s how they’re going to do it, they’re redefining everything that’s been set out,” said Driftpile First Nation Chief Rose Laboucan.

She points to Supreme Court of Canada decisions which state that governments have a duty to consult First Nations on development that will impact traditional land.

The Driftpile First Nation already has a consultation policy in place, says Laboucan, as do a number of other First Nations.

“We look at the policy from our perspective and the government looks at their policy from their perspective. (The province) wants their policy pushed forward and they want everyone to follow it,” she said. “But we do have a protocol with the province, government to government protocol agreement and we are to deal with each other as nation to nation. If the province can have a consultation policy then the First Nation can have a consultation policy too.”

The consultation office keeps authority with the government, Laboucan says, as other government offices have overriding power on the consultation office.

Alexis refers to the consultation office as “diluted. Again you’ve got to touch on treaty issues, you’ve got to touch on UN issues” and the consultation office doesn’t do that.

The provincial draft policy also calls for a levy on industry which will create a fund to be administered by the consultation office and would flow to First Nations to build their capacity for consultation.

“The money should not be pooled in one area and then managed by the Alberta government again. It should be a sovereignty issue in respect to the First Nation and the industry partner of choice. They should be deciding how they want to engage and at the same time the Alberta government shouldn’t be deciding if they want the money filtered into a certain location and then they decide how it’s going to be spent. I don’t agree with that,” said Alexis.

Fox said that the continued pushing of the consultation policy “only acts to aggravate an already strained relationship between First Nations and the Governments of Alberta and Canada.”

In an interview with Venture magazine in mid-April, Aboriginal Relations Minister Robin Campbell said, “We’re very committed to strengthening our relationship with First Nations through the recognition of their treaty relationship between First Nations and the Crown… Our premier has made it very clear that as we move forward in the development of Alberta that First Nations need to be at that table.”

First Nations had until the beginning of May to respond to the policy. The province plans to finalize the policy later this spring.