03/03/2015 11:36 EST | Updated 05/03/2015 05:59 EDT

First Nations revenue sharing must be priority for Ottawa, panel argues

A joint First Nations and federal government working group on natural resources has issued its final report, urging Canada to make resource revenue sharing a priority going forward.

The panel identifies the sharing of resource revenue as the best means of eliminating socio-economic disparities.

"In particular, we strongly urge that the next roundtable focus exclusively on resource revenue sharing, an urgent and pressing issue for this country and all First Nations," the report says.

But the report argues First Nation participation goes beyond getting a share of the profits of projects. It says the credibility and ultimate success of extraction projects depends on the buy-in from First Nations. It urges the federal government and industry to realize that First Nations need to be directly involved in the planning, design, management, ownership and reclamation phases of projects.

And First Nations should be involved in the collection and management of environmental data and land use information, and be participants in the regulatory processes, the report suggests.

"The credibility of a natural resource development project depends on inclusive environmental decision-making, monitoring ... that take into account and involve First Nations," says the report.

"Having credibility in the eyes of community members requires addressing environmental issues in a transparent and fact-based manner, and staying accountable," the report continues.

Lack of consultation cited

The report echoes many of the recommendations and observations made by Doug Eyford, the prime minister's special envoy on West Coast energy issues in his report at the end of 2013.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he wants to make Canada an energy superpower. But many projects have been held up or thwarted by First Nations that have felt their land and treaty rights to be threatened or violated.

Eyford's report essentially recognized that if the federal government had done more to truly listen to and consult First Nations, there might have been less opposition to key energy projects.

However, there are many First Nations that, regardless, are opposed to projects they worry will damage the environment irreversibly.

Today's working group report aims to chart a path forward, points out that natural resource development is a critical component of Canada's economic prosperity. It estimates that over the next decade, investments in Canada's natural resource industry could reach as high as $675 billion.

Other recommendations include holding an international forum to promote First Nations trade and international partnerships, and exploring financing options for addressing the capital needs of First Nations.

The creation of the working group was one of the pledges to come out of the meeting between Harper and former Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo in December 2013.

The working group is co-chaired by federal government appointee Douglas Turnbull, a former deputy chairman of TD Securities and AFN appointee, AFN Alberta Regional Chief Cameron Alexis. The group is made up of other federal government and AFN appointees.

The group held working sessions with business and First Nations leaders last fall.

Today's final report was submitted to AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde and Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Bernard Valcourt.