Nishnawbe Aski Nation is concerned that First Nations were not included in discussions about the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement.
“The problem we have is not so much the agreement or the content itself,” said NAN Grand Chief Stan Beardy. “The process is where we have a difficulty. It is clear in the Canadian Constitution that the government, the crown, has a legal obligation to consult and accommodate First Nations. When they had discussions on development of this agreement, NAN was not part of those discussions. This agreement was made without our knowledge so I think that is very disrespectful of our rights.”
The agreement was unveiled May 18 by 21 member companies of the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) and nine leading environmental organizations to conserve significant areas of Canada’s vast boreal forest, protect threatened woodland caribou and provide a competitive market edge for participating companies.
Beardy said the agreement disrespects First Nations rights.
“Nobody has the right to develop an agreement that affects any of NAN’s lands and resources without consultation, accommodation and consent from us,” Beardy said. “This Agreement was made without our knowledge and treats NAN as a stakeholder – not a government.”
NAN stated in a press release that the agreement involves the suspension of logging on about 29 million hectares of boreal forest across Canada to allow for caribou protection planning – a portion of NAN territory is included in that area.
In 2004, the same attempt was made to make decisions over the NAN territory when environmental groups and forestry and energy companies developed a 50/50 split of the land: 50 per cent for protected land and 50 per cent for development.
“The right of consent is reflected in the spirit and intent of both Treaty 9 and Treaty 5, this is our right,” said Beardy. “We must be part of the decision making, benefit from resources in our traditional territory, and be involved in how the land is managed. Environmental groups and forest product companies must have our free, prior and informed consent on these matters. These kinds of agreements have to stop and the true decision makers, First Nations, must be the ones to have the final say.”
NAN chiefs-in-assembly recently passed a resolution stating among other points that free and informed consent of NAN First Nations is required before any significant steps are taken in relation to any private development projects and any Canadian government policy exercises that may affect any part of NAN territory.
Beardy is now calling for Canada to sign on to the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“Under the UN Declaration, the states and the governments are required to have free, prior and informed consent with its original inhabitants,” Beardy said. “Because Canada has not signed that (UN Declaration), that is why they are able to bypass First Nations people in terms of the duty to consult.”
Beardy said the agreement will have an impact on future economic opportunities for NAN’s communities and citizens.
If the agreement ties in with endangered species and habitat, Beardy said it will impact the development of infrastructure to improve the quality of life in NAN communities.
“If that is what they are talking about here, it will impact on us building infrastructure we need to continue to improve the quality of life for our people,” Beardy said. “It will impact all weather roads, it will impact (hydro) grid lines, it will impact other potential resource development activities which we are looking at to begin to establish an economic base for ourselves. So that is why we are concerned.”
Avrim Lazar, president and CEO of FPAC, said the FPAC companies and the environmental organizations have identified a more intelligent, productive way to manage economic and environmental challenges in the boreal forest that will reassure global buyers their products’ sustainability.
“It’s gratifying to see nearly a decade of industry transformation and hard work greening our operations, is culminating in a process that will set a forestry standard that will be the envy of the world,” Lazar said.
Richard Brooks, spokesman for participating environmental organizations and forest campaign co-ordinator for Greenpeace Canada, said the agreement is the best chance to save woodland caribou, permanently protect vast areas of the Boreal Forest and put in place sustainable forestry practices.
“Concerns from the public and the marketplace about wilderness conservation and species loss have been critical drivers in arriving at this agreement,” Brooks said. “We have a lot of work to do together to make this agreement successful and we are committed to make it happen.”
The agreement identifies explicit commitments for both sides and sets out a plan, which includes: the development and implementation of world-leading forest management and harvesting practices; the completion of joint proposals for networks of protected areas and the recovery of species at risk including woodland caribou; a full life cycle approach to forest carbon management; and support for the economic future of forest communities and for the recognition of conservation achievements in the global marketplace.
The signatory groups stated in a press release they have begun meetings with provincial governments, First Nations and local communities across the country to seek their leadership and full participation in advancing the goals of the agreement.
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