AFN National Chief – Respect First Nations Rights

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde - Photo by Annie Wenjack
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde - Photo by Annie Wenjack

OTTAWA – Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde says economic certainty can only be achieved when First Nations rights, title and jurisdiction are respected and upheld, including the standard of free, prior and informed consent. The National Chief made the comments following the decision by the British Columbia Court of Appeal in the B.C. government’s reference question on regulatory powers over crude oil.

“First Nations rights over any decisions that affect our lives or traditional territories, including the duty to consult and free, prior and informed consent, must be respected by all governments,” said AFN National Chief Bellegarde. “Respect for these rights is not a barrier to economic certainty. Ignoring these rights leads to uncertainty, conflict and costly litigation. It’s unfortunate that this decision ignores First Nations rights and fails to recognize that First Nations are an order of the government within Canada’s Constitutional framework. The federal and provincial levels of government must ensure that First Nation customary laws and processes are respected at all times. It is becoming increasingly clear that this is the only way forward.”

The AFN intervened in this reference case – Proposed Amendments to the Environmental Act – insisting the court ensure the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and free, prior and informed consent be upheld, along with customary laws and practices. AFN also called on the court to consider the perspectives of First Nations, their relationship to the lands and natural environment, and the way these relationships are uniquely and inextricably connected to First Nations health, well-being and cultural, social and economic vitality.

AFN Yukon Regional Chief Kluane Adamek, co-chair of the AFN Advisory Committee on Climate Action and the Environment, said: “This court decision does not speak to the very obvious fact that a true partnership with First Nations is required for any decisions that impact our territories. Building an honest trusting relationship with First Nations is key to building a future that protects and sustains the environment regardless of jurisdiction. We can work on the environment and still invest in education, in healthcare and still find new ways to build a modern innovative economy that thrives. But the relationship with First Nations must be genuine, respectful, open and we must be involved right from the very start.”

The decision on the proposed amendments to the Environmental Management Act dealt with the jurisdiction and authority of the Government of B.C. to regulate and restrict companies that transport diluted bitumen through B.C. The unanimous ruling found that the draft legislation was not within BC’s jurisdiction to enact.