VICTORIA - A British Columbia First Nation says the provincial government is dragging its feet when it comes to consulting with aboriginal people about proposed liquefied-natural-gas developments, including revenue sharing.
The Wet'suwet'un First Nation warned Premier Christy Clark Monday in a statement that consultations must begin immediately or the First Nation will "pursue the steps necessary to ensure that the province fulfills its constitutional obligations.”
Wet'suwet'un Chief Karen Ogen said her First Nation sent Clark a letter last August urging her to start consultations, but there's been no reply even though the government is meeting with the industry as it develops regulatory and taxation policies.
"Time is running out," said Ogen in a statement. "Taking First Nations support for granted and treating consultation with Wet’suwet’en First Nation as an inconvenient afterthought is not consultation in good faith."
But John Rustad, minister of aboriginal relations and reconciliation, said a statement issued Monday evening that he met with the First Nation on Oct. 22.
He said both sides talked about the First Nation's interest in negotiating accommodation-type agreements with government and industry.
Rustad said the parties also talked about the First Nation's correspondence to government, including his ministry’s commitment to deliver appropriate and timely responses to questions.
"Let me be clear," said Rustad in the statement. "Our government takes consultation and the courts' direction on consultation very seriously. We recognize that it’s not just a legal obligation – it’s also good governance."
Ogen could not be immediately reached for comment; she was attending a memorial service in B.C. for the families and victims of a January 2012 explosion at the Babine Forest Products sawmill that killed two people from Burns Lake and injured at least 20 others.
The Burns Lake area of north-central B.C. is part of the traditional territories of the Wet'suwet'un people.
Ogen said LNG development decisions have the potential to shape and impact aboriginal lands for several decades, and First Nations want to be included in the process. She said governments are legally obligated to consult with First Nations on developments that could impact their territories.
At least three proposed natural-gas pipelines, leading to the proposed LNG terminals in northwest B.C. near Kitimat and Prince Rupert, cross through Wet'suwet'un territory, said the First Nation.
"We have to get Crown consultation right on a new LNG Industry which will impact First Nations lands, including Wet’suwet’en aboriginal title lands, for the next 30-plus years," said Ogen.
"If Premier Clark fails to provide the information we have requested by January 31 and begin meaningful Crown consultation with Wet’suwet’en on the new LNG industry, then Wet’suwet’en First Nation will pursue the steps necessary to ensure that the province fulfills its constitutional obligations."
The statement does not elaborate on what steps the First Nation will take, but the Wet'suwet'un have never been shy from taking their issues to court.
Meantime, Rustad said his ministry has been organizing regional workshops geared specifically to First Nations. He said the workshops have provided information and addressed questions about how the proposed LNG industry will be subject to provincial regulatory review and jurisdiction.
He said his ministry has also created a negotiations team that has met with the First Nation and discussed proposed pipelines in their territory.
The Wet'suwet'un were part of the landmark Delgamuukw Supreme Court of Canada decision in 1997 that said aboriginal title does exist in B.C. The ruling said governments must consult First Nations whose title rights are affected and they may have to compensate them.
Clark has said LNG development in B.C. is a $1-trillion opportunity that could create up to 100,000 jobs.
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