03/03/2015 01:42 EST | Updated 05/03/2015 05:59 EDT

Ottawa Urged To Share Resource Taxes With Aboriginals

EDMONTON - First Nations should get some of the money generated by resources on their lands, suggests a report commissioned by the federal government and the Assembly of First Nations.

The report, released Tuesday by the Working Group on Natural Resource Development, says a First Nations resource tax could be a consistent and practical way for mineral and energy wealth to benefit aboriginal communities.

"We strongly urge the federal government, along with the provinces and territories, to come together with First Nations to explore options for resource revenue sharing," says the report.

"This discussion is long overdue and requires immediate action in order to bring greater predictability to resource development in Canada and establish a long-term pathway to greater First Nations self-reliance."

The group was struck after a meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former Assembly of First Nations grand chief Shawn Atleo. Its report was issued after meetings in Toronto and Edmonton between First Nations, governments, industry and non-governmental organizations.

The report also suggests that aboriginals deserve a role in planning resource development, instead of just being asked to comment on projects that have already been finalized.

"We are notified at the 11th hour," said Cameron Alexis, a co-chairman of the group and regional AFN chief for Alberta.

"The green light for the project has been given and we've become just a check mark. We need to be involved at the very beginning."

The report also advocates international outreach to educate multinational corporations on how to do business on First Nations land.

Alexis said such measures are needed if aboriginal people are to fully participate in the $675 billion of possible resource investment that the federal government says could be headed to Canada over the next decade.

"First Nations, for the most part, want to be engaged in decision-making and the economics of it."

Resource revenue sharing could give First Nations access to the capital they need to become partners in development, said Alexis.

"It gives First Nations a chance to pool their money and invest in each other."

Some industry groups are already in favour of involving bands in the design of their projects, he said.

Pierre Gratton of the Mining Association of Canada said miners are divided on revenue sharing. Some say it would ensure royalties they're already paying benefit local people; others fear it would lead to higher assessments.

"You just have to remember that it's one pie and you can only slice it so many ways."

He said his association recommends miners talk to aboriginal communities early. Sacred sites, hunting grounds or other important areas can often be avoided if companies get together with First Nations during the design stage.

"Active, early consultation is good business as well as good community relations," Gratton said.

A spokeswoman for Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt didn't respond to a specific question on whether the government would consider sharing resource royalties.

"We are currently reviewing the working group's report," said Emily Hillstrom in an email. "In the meantime, we will continue taking practical steps to build partnerships with aboriginal communities."

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960

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