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Report urges Canada to seek aboriginal consent for land development

CALGARY, Alberta, Sept 21 (Reuters) - A coalition of First Nations, environmentalists and companies including Canada’s largest oil producer Suncor Energy called on Monday for industry and government to adopt a principle of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) when working with indigenous groups.

In a report the Boreal Leadership Council said FPIC - the right of indigenous people to offer or withhold consent to development that might impact their territories - is crucial to ensuring Canada’s vast natural resources can be extracted.

Disputes with First Nations communities have contributed to delays on a number of major energy infrastructure projects, most notably Enbridge Inc’s Northern Gateway pipeline to Canada’s Pacific Coast.

“Canada is establishing an international reputation for conflict with high profile examples of protest, legal action and community opposition,” said Dave Porter of BC First Nations Energy and Mining Council. “This report shows there is a different way forward.”

The report, ‘Understanding Successful Approaches to Free, Prior and Informed Consent in Canada’, said seeking consent is central to building trust and transparency between indigenous communities and government and industry.

Suncor is one of the largest producers in the oil sands, which are situated in the boreal forests of northern Canada, and said it welcomed the chance to learn more about what FPIC means to aboriginal communities.

“What’s important to Suncor is that we continue to have strong, mutually beneficial long term relationships with First Nations,” said Peter MacConnachie from Sustainability Suncor.

The company has been a member of the Boreal Leadership Council since it was founded in 2003.

Conflict between companies and aboriginal groups is most widespread in British Columbia, where huge swathes of the province are subject to land claims.

“There’s a tremendous amount of time, money and opportunity lost by failing to reach agreement and by failing to move forward on how to work jointly with communities,” said Karen Clarke-Whistler, chief environmental officer of TD Bank Group , another member of the council.

“If you can work it out on the ground in an equitable fashion then everybody wins.” (Reporting by Nia Williams; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)