By John Rustad
Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation
VICTORIA - Looking back at 2014, this has been a year of revitalizing partnerships between First Nations and the Province of British Columbia and focusing on reconciliation to improve the quality of life for Aboriginal people.
Generally, Aboriginal people are not where they should be in terms of health, education, employment and engagement in the political and economic life of British Columbia. As a government, we have a moral and legal obligation to work with Aboriginal communities to close the gap on those economic and quality-of-life indicators.
Our efforts at reconciliation are guided by building partnerships with First Nations communities and opening the door to long-term economic and social growth. One of the strongest paths to partnership is through revenue sharing. B.C. is the first province in Canada to share provincial revenue from mining, forestry and other resources with First Nations and we now have well over 200 revenue-sharing agreements in place with First Nations throughout the province.
Revenue is flowing into First Nations' lands, and members are launching businesses or finding jobs within their traditional territories, often related to forestry, milling, mining, fisheries and tourism.
This year, the Province has also expanded partnerships with First Nations in terms of developing B.C.'s liquefied natural gas industry. The Nisga'a Nation signed benefit-sharing agreements with the Province and TransCanada for the proposed Prince Rupert Gas Transmission (PRGT) pipeline project, ensuring that the Nisga'a people will benefit from LNG development in B.C. In December, the Province and the Skin Tyee, Nee Tahi Buhn and the Wet'suwet'en First Nations signed pipeline benefits agreements for the proposed PRGT and the Coastal GasLink pipeline projects. More negotiations are underway with First Nations along proposed pipeline routes and additional benefits agreements are expected in 2015.
Pipeline benefits agreements are part of a comprehensive approach to partnering with First Nations on LNG opportunities. Like many of the Province's resource development initiatives with First Nations, there will also be new environmental stewardship and skills training opportunities.
As Chief Karen Ogen of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation has noted, "The environment and economic development have to go hand-in-hand." In May, the Province launched an innovative, collaborative approach to environmental monitoring and restoration through the LNG Environmental Stewardship Initiative. This forum is a means for First Nations, the Province and the private sector to work together to enhance the environment over the long term, creating a positive legacy from B.C.'s expanding LNG industry.
Aboriginal communities and the Government of B.C. will significantly expand both environmental stewardship and skills training projects in the new year.
B.C.'s Skills for Jobs Blueprint prioritizes access to education and training for Aboriginal people so they can gain a foothold and take advantage of economic opportunities in their communities and throughout B.C. with the goal of adding 15,000 more Aboriginal workers within 10 years. In October, I signed an agreement with the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres to support skills training and employment opportunities focused on Aboriginal people and youth living in urban areas.
First Nations are embracing economic opportunities in balance with being stewards of the land. In December, the Tahltan Nation and the Province announced a $500,000 investment in a new run-of-river hydroelectric facility, the largest amount provided in 2014 under the First Nations Clean Energy Business Fund. The investment enables the Tahltan Nation to acquire an ownership interest in the clean energy project and share in revenues from the sale of power to BC Hydro.
This year was also the year of the Supreme Court of Canada's Tsilhqot'in decision, a historic ruling that provides greater clarity on Aboriginal title and the Province's rights and responsibilities.
In September, Premier Christy Clark and I visited the Tsilhqot'in title lands, the first time a premier had visited the Nemiah Valley, where our two governments committed to building a more positive relationship and setting the groundwork for long-term reconciliation efforts. Our governments will be making progress throughout 2015 to bring the Tsilhqot'in Nation judgment to life with what we expect to be a unique and groundbreaking reconciliation agreement.
Additional reconciliation progress is also expected in 2015 through the B.C. Treaty process. A number of treaty tables are expected to sign Agreements-in-Principle. The Province is preparing a number of innovative economic agreements with First Nations that support the treaty process and keep up momentum at the tables.
Next year will continue to be transformational for First Nations in B.C. in terms of reconciliation, relationships and building economic opportunities.
"Prosperity can take hold when industry, the Province and First Nations understand each other's priorities and work together from a foundation of mutual respect," says Chief Councillor Ellis Ross, of the Haisla Nation. "There is opportunity in B.C. and pursuing projects in partnership will be fundamental to unlocking the potential so both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people can thrive."
Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation