By Julie Gordon
VANCOUVER Dec 5 Canada must do more to build
trust with aboriginal communities to win their support for
resource projects such as oil pipelines and natural gas
terminals, a government report said on Thursday.
"There has not been a constructive dialogue about energy
projects. Aboriginal leaders are prepared to engage and Canada
will need to address issues on their agenda," Douglas Eyford,
the federal government's special representative on west coast
energy infrastructure, said in the 58-page report.
Eyford was appointed in March to look at ways of boosting
energy exports while increasing aboriginal participation in the
Canada has long had poor relations with its million-strong
native Indian population, which is largely beset with poverty,
poor housing and high unemployment.
Unhappiness is growing and, over the last year, aboriginal
bands have blockaded roads and rail lines and barricaded entry
to mining and energy projects.
Many aboriginal bands strongly dislike Enbridge Corp's
plans for the Northern Gateway pipeline to take crude
from the Alberta tar sands to the Pacific Coast of British
Columbia and then on to Asian customers.
Some oppose the pipeline on environmental grounds, while
others complain the government has long ignored laws that say
they must be consulted on industrial development.
"Canada must take decisive steps to build trust with
aboriginal Canadians, to foster their inclusion into the
economy, and to advance the reconciliation of aboriginal people
and non-aboriginal people," Eyford said.
Energy projects could provide training, jobs and business
opportunities for aboriginal people in Alberta and British
Columbia, the report said.
"Historically, aboriginal Canadians have not benefited from
natural resource developments in their traditional territories
to the same degree as non-aboriginal Canadians," wrote Eyford,
who spent eight months consulting with aboriginal communities.
But while aboriginal leaders were aware of the potential
benefits resource development could bring their people, the
report found that environmental impact remains a major concern.
"Aboriginal Canadians view themselves as connected to the
environment and as its stewards; this is an integral aspect of
their culture. The projects, by their nature, create potential
hazards in the terrestrial and marine environments," he wrote.
Speaking at the release of the report in Vancouver, Natural
Resources Minister Joe Oliver said the government is listening
to First Nation concerns and noted that economic interests would
not outweigh safety on resource developments.
"We are determined to have world-class standards for the
transport of our resources, whether it be by rail, pipeline or
tanker," he said. "We will not approve any projects that are not
safe for Canadians and safe for the environment."
Still, native leaders questioned government willingness to
consult with them in a meaningful manner, especially if their
views ultimately ran counter to Ottawa's interests.
"Within this report, there's some very clear recommendations
to empower First Nations to participate and it can't just simply
be a way to corral us toward an answer of 'yes,'" said Chief Bob
Chamberlin of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.
"There's no sense in going through the process if that's the
only answer they're going to have ears to listen to."
At a separate event in Vancouver, members of the Yinka Dene
Alliance, an aboriginal group, signed a solidarity accord with
unions, environmental groups and a tourism trade association
against Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline. Energy regulators
are due to rule on the controversial proposal this month.
Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP has also proposed a
new pipeline to carry oil from Alberta to the coast.
Chief Martin Louie of the Nadleh Whut'en Nation told
reporters that transporting crude oil across British Columbia
and along its coast is simply too risky.
"The most precious thing on earth is water and that's what
we're trying to protect," he said, adding his alliance would
take action to stop projects if they go ahead. "In trying to
protect the future of our children, anybody would stand in the
way of any development and that's what we're prepared to do."
Aboriginal groups worry about the impact a major spill, like
the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker disaster in Alaska, would have on
the province's salmon population and other wildlife.
In an effort to calm fears, the government on Tuesday
released a report urging an overhaul of tanker safety plans and
said it would address the recommendations ahead of any increase
in traffic on Canadian waters.