Two historic deals in the west Canada could reshape the role of indigenous nations in resource development projects, placing greater power in the hands of groups that have long been excluded and signaling a potential shift in the way industry and governments deal with communities on the front line of environmental degradation.

In recent years, a series of fierce battles for pipelines have highlighted the contentious nature of resource extraction projects, which often pit First Nations communities against each other against powerful companies.

But this week Yaq̓it ʔa knuqⱡi ‘it (YQT), a community in southeastern British Columbia, signed an unprecedented agreement with mining company NWP Coal Canada that would give indigenous leaders a “veto” over the proposed project, reshaping drastically the power that indigenous nations have over their territory.

Under the agreement, YQT will become the “regulator and reviewer” of the proposed C$400 million (US$300 million) Crown Mountain project.

“For too long, indigenous nations have not come to the table in making decisions that directly affect our rights and interests,” Chief Heidi Gravelle said in a statement, adding that her community would finally have the change to regulate the projects in their own territory. .

“We think this is the right thing to do: treat indigenous title holders like governments and take their word seriously,” said Dave Baines, director of project development at NWP, noting dissatisfaction in communities who felt they were not consulted. or improperly promised. they were broken.

“The industry likes to do what has worked in the past instead of trying new things. But sometimes you have to stop doing what you’ve done before and make that change.”

With previous projects across the country sometimes facing criticism for a lack of meaningful consultation, Baines said the decision also makes business sense.

“We are seeing projects rejected because they are not aligned with the Indigenous people In the area. Is it a bigger risk for us to formally accept them as regulators and work with them to come to a yes? Or is it a higher risk to do business as usual and possibly face a lawsuit in the future?

The proposed metallurgical coal mine would open in 2025 if approved by federal and provincial regulators.

The region is currently the site of coking coal mines with a poor environmental record: in March, a provincial court Teck Resources fined C$60 million after its Fording River and Greenhills operations contaminated local waterways with selenium. Other mines have been proposed the goal faced stiff opposition.

In his statement, Gravelle said the company had committed to conducting a “consent-based environmental assessment,” meaning NWP would require YQT’s permission for the project to move forward, as well as oversight of the project over the life of the project. expected from the mine and remediation efforts.

“Getting a permit for a project is like a marriage: the hard work is not standing in front of the minister, it’s the next 30 years living in each other’s pockets,” Baines said. If we’re going to work with these nations… it’s a journey together. It is not a single approval ”.

In recent years, indigenous leaders in western Canada have advocated for a greater say in or even full control on – resource projects that affect your territory.

The agreement comes as Blueberry River First Nations, a community 1,200 km away, announced its own landmark agreement with the province of British Columbia. In a landscape marked by a relentless drive for new industrial development, the agreement would see new protections for wildlife, an end to logging in old-growth forests and new compensation for the community. Any new resource extraction projects will be limited in the amount of land they can disturb.

“For a long time, First Nations were sidelined, uninvolved and unlistened,” Chief Judy Desjarlais told reporters when she and the prime minister announced the deal. “Today marks a new direction. First Nations will be participants at all stages of development. Blueberry now has a say every step of the way.”

The provincial government also agreed to set up a C$200 million restoration fund to support the “healing” of the land after years of industrial unrest.

In 2021, British Columbia’s supreme court sided with Blueberry River, finding that the province had violated the nation’s treaty rights by allowing fossil fuel development in the region that had prevented the nation from being able to live off of it. the earth.

Further agreements on revenue sharing and land rehabilitation between the provincial government and First Nations are expected in the coming days.

By sbavh

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