The success of the bioenergy sector is intrinsically linked to the success of the First Nations treaty process, according to B.C. treaty commissioner Shana Manson.
Manson was one of the keynote speakers at the three-day bioenergy workshop held in Prince George March 2-5. Manson is a member of the Lyackson First Nation and was the head negotiator for the Hupacasath First Nation for two years.
The bioenergy sector, like all resource-based industries, are based on land claimed by First Nations as traditional territory, Manson said.
“Treaties give stability for the landbase,” she said. “The goal is a fair and durable treaty that is fair for First Nations and fair for all British Columbians.”
Many resource companies are already working hard to engage First Nations in resource projects in their traditional territories, Manson said. However, that is a new phenomenon.
“Until now the history of this province has been, from a First Nations perspective, a policy of denial,” she said. “First Nations have wanted to preserve forests for traditional use. (But) all of the activity, all of the resource extraction, all of the development… has already happened.”
In the case of the Lyackson First Nation, 80 per cent of their traditional territory is now private land. Of the 20 per cent which is Crown land, some has been converted to provincial and federal parks.
Treaties have to be, “heavily weighted toward First Nations,” to compensate them for historic losses and to create a base for economic sustainability in the future, Manson said.
Accommodating First Nations interests will encourage aboriginal groups to sign treaties and create a clear, well-defined process for consultation and development, she said.
“As a (First Nations) community, we never seem to have a lever to get our interests taken seriously,” Manson said. “(But) the courts continued to press for treaty negotiations to be part of any reconciliation efforts.”