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Indigenous leaders, industry reps gather in Prince George for engagement event

First Nations Major Projects Coalition executive director Niilo Edwards. Bill Phillips photo

How do major resource projects obtain approval to operate in First Nations’ traditional territories?

It all starts with talking.

And that is exactly what is happening this week in Prince George as the First Nations Major Projects Coalition hosts the third annual industry engagement event in Prince George March 2-3. The first day of the event comes a day after an agreement was reached between Ottawa, Victoria, and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs regarding aboriginal title and rights. While it has been making news around the country, First Nations Major Projects Coalition executive director Niilo Edwards says the issues out west aren’t dominating talks here.

“What our members are focused on is getting information that they can use to make informed business decisions on their traditional territory,” Edwards said during a break in proceedings Monday morning.

About 200 people are attending the forum with an almost equal split of indigenous and industry representatives. Edwards said there is indigenous representation here from across western Canada, including Wet’suwet’en hereditary and elected chiefs.

“It helps our members connect with business so there can be a better, more mutual understanding of what the priorities are of indigenous communities and so that understanding can translate over to business so business has a better understanding of how they should be operating in traditional territories.”

He said if Canada is going to move forward, there has to be space for positive dialogue to take place with indigenous communities.

“Indigenous communities are realizing there are a lot of opportunities out there,” he said. “There’s opportunity now through different legislative initiatives, through the (United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) to really assert influence at the community level on projects.”

In addition to that, he said, proponents of major projects are realizing there are opportunities to work with indigenous communities to co-develop projects. The benefit for indigenous communities is they become less reliant on federal and provincial funding.

“When you are empowered to make your decisions, based on your community values, that’s the key principle that we’re focused on,” he said.

The gathering in Prince George is focused primarily on major resource development and infrastructure projects which a diverse set of projects including pipelines, hydro transmission lines, mines, roads so name a few. The goal is to create an economy for indigenous communities to provide their own services.

“They want to start to deliver their own houses, their own wastewater treatment facilities, their own roads, their own social infrastructure so that the well-being index of communities can increase across the board.”

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