Governments and corporate Canada remain in denial about a new reality: aboriginal groups hold veto power over resource development.
In his just-published book, Resource Rulers; Fortune and Folly on Canada’s Road to Resources, Bill Gallagher reviews the legal victories natives have toted up since the 1980s, and draws an intriguing conclusion.
He says it’s no longer enough for companies to merely consult on resource projects, they need to invite aboriginals to become partners and co-managers in proposed developments.
Gallagher, a Kitchener resident who has worked as an oil-patch lawyer and treaty negotiator, calls the situation “the biggest under-reported business story of the last decade.” He personally has counted up “well over” 150 legal wins for native groups, all based on provisions outlined in Canada’s Constitution.
“The native legal winning streak now simply has to be fundamentally and constructively addressed, both nationally and regionally .”
That message was reinforced last week by Assembly of First Nations chief Shawn Atleo, speaking at a gathering north of Thunder Bay. Atleo said aboriginals are prepared to take care of themselves financially, using revenue from resources they believe they own.
Gallagher says natives have become unrelenting because their legal wins have convinced them of their clout.
That attitude is playing out at the moment in their inflexible opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline in B.C. – despite the fact some native groups in the province have signed on to the project.
He says ultimately it will be the native people who will have the major voice in deciding risks that can be tolerated in transporting bitumen.
In the same vein, Gallagher labels “inconceivable” any oil development off B.C.’s coast – in an area where ownership rights remain unclear.
“Until we have true resource-power sharing with natives, the fate of Canada’s resource sector will be in the hands of native strategists in their new capacity as resource rulers.”
The aboriginals also are benefiting from the help of sophisticated eco-activists, though occasionally, they’ve spurned such help in favour of resource revenue and jobs on offer.
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