Attaining an Aboriginal community’s consent to a
development project should not be viewed as a line item on a to-do
list. Corporations that want to operate successfully in areas
subject to Aboriginal interests must therefore find new ways of
building or rebuilding relationships – and the first step is
developing mutual trust.
The Boreal Leadership Council (BLC) – a working group of
conservation organizations, indigenous peoples, resource companies
and financial institutions – has developed a framework
through which industry and government can engage indigenous
communities. The BLC has asked industry and government to implement
the idea of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) - the right of
indigenous peoples to offer or withhold consent to developments
that may have an impact on their territories or resources –
in other words, a veto power over resource development projects.
FPIC cannot exist where a people does not have the option to
meaningfully withhold consent.
The BLC – whose members include Suncor Energy, TD Bank and
Tembec Inc. – has concluded that fears of
“arming” indigenous leaders with a veto power are
misguided. The BLC believes that adopting FPIC would serve to
facilitate partnerships and not create a barrier to development. In
essence, FPIC is the most meaningful olive branch that can be
offered by industry and government; it is a tangible step down the
path towards true partnership.
On September 20, 2015, the BLC released a report entitled
“Understanding Successful Approaches to FPIC in Canada, Part
1”. The report identified several roles for industry in the
consultation process, including,
supporting indigenous communities to advance key policy issues,
such as revenue sharing, with the government;
jointly defining the engagement and consultation process, as
early as possible in project planning (e.g. at the project
working to obtain community consent through impact benefit
supporting the review of a project through community controlled
research, in particular on the traditional knowledge and use of the
indigenous people; and
financially supporting indigenous communities’ engagement
and participation in negotiations, and their internal technical
reviews of project and consultation documents.
FPIC will likely take years to be fully defined and implemented.
In the short term, there are other means by which industry can
engage indigenous communities for mutual benefit in addition to the
consultation process outlined above. An indigenous engagement
strategy could also include the following.
Indigenous representation on boards of directors. In addition
to the benefit of fostering a true partnership between a company
and the communities in which it operates, the case for diverse
board representation is clear: a plurality of opinion leads to
Proactive introduction. Even before a project is proposed, a
company should reach out to communities in which it aims to
cooperate in the future – meaningful connections could be
formed through, for example, establishing scholarships, supporting
social programs, and financing environmental conservation
Be open to indigenous investment in the project itself.
While the foregoing are by no means a complete list of all of
the ways a company can engage with an Aboriginal community, we
believe such actions could assist in developing a sense of shared
purpose that would promote both cultural identity and wealth
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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