Governments must engage indigenous peoples as equals in resource development approvals: study

Image: Joey Podlubny/JWN

A mutually beneficial model for decision making in land and resource development in Canada requires a new approach—one that commits governments to recognizing indigenous peoples’ inherent jurisdiction and fully engages them in the decision-making process, says a new paper from the Institute for Research on Public Policy.

“Canada’s full endorsement of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) represents a significant advance toward reconciliation, but many challenges lie ahead for transforming words into deeds,” say authors Martin Papillon and Thierry Rodon.

There is considerable controversy about the interpretation of one of the core elements of UNDRIP—the meaning and scope of indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). This ambiguity continues to be a major roadblock to full implementation of UNDRIP in Canada.

The practical meaning of FPIC also has very real implications for indigenous peoples, the natural resource economy and Canadians more broadly. The ongoing controversies over the Trans Mountain pipeline in B.C. and the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador are only two examples.

The authors argue that the current focus on whether indigenous peoples have a veto on resource extraction projects obscures more than it enlightens the debate on FPIC implementation. The key to FPIC, they argue, lies more in the recognition of a relationship between mutually self-determining partners.

“We need to combine collaborative decision making, where indigenous peoples are equal jurisdictional partners in the authorization process, with community-driven decision making over the inherent value of a project.”

They note that there are experiments in some parts of the country that could serve as a guide for translating FPIC into practice. For example, indigenous communities in B.C. have created their own impact assessment procedures for resource projects, as well as collaborative negotiation practices with proponents and governments.

Papillon and Rodon conclude that not only would the approach they propose contribute to eliminating political uncertainty, costly project delays and legal battles, it would also be consistent with emerging international standards.

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