Few issues will carry as much relevance to Canadians in the coming years as the development of natural resources. Dozens of projects – including many pipelines and mines – have been proposed for nearly every corner of the country.
But for Aboriginal Canadians, rapid resource development raises real and serious fears, based in large measure on unhappy experiences in the past.
How can the two sides – First Nations and business – work together to ensure our development of natural resources is safe, stable and reliable?
The Macdonald-Laurier Institute (MLI) has emerged as a national thought leader with its wide-ranging, multi-year project Aboriginal Canada and the Natural Resource Economy. By drawing on a team of experienced experts in the field, including former Assembly of First Nations chief Ovide Mercredi, this project is producing solutions on difficult public policy questions.
MLI Managing Director Brian Lee Crowley and Senior Fellow Ken Coates made a splash with the release of two papers: “New Beginnings: How Canada’s natural resource wealth could re-shape relations with Aboriginal people” and “The Way Out: New thinking about Aboriginal engagement and energy infrastructure to the West Coast”. Both examine how the Northern Gateway pipeline and other energy projects should be a model for cooperation between First Nations and development companies. This was followed by Douglas Bland’s “Canada and the First Nations: Cooperation or conflict?”
More recently, MLI has led the way with the release of a paper on the Duty to Consult by University of Saskatchewan law professor Dwight Newman. Newman and Coates then released a paper in September 2014 detailing the long-term implications of the controversial Tsilhqot’in and Grassy Narrows court decisions.
A 2015 paper by Ken Coates examined what needs to be done to better pair Aboriginal Canadians with natural resource companies who need skilled labourers. Then in 2016, MLI added to its series with a report by Bram Noble on fixing the environmental assessment process so it works better for both Aboriginal communities and developers.
Two other entries in the series involves a look at the United Nations notion of free, prior and informed consent and the Declaration on the Rights of Indgenous Peoples. Those papers were authored by Coates and Blaine Favel, Chancellor of the University of Saskatchewan and an influential Plains Cree leader.
Those were followed by a paper from Newman and Kaitlyn Harvey on the Extractive Sector Transparency Measures Act.
MLI’s work has received recognition from across the country.
“The study by Brian Lee Crowley and Ken Coates is a 'home run'”, said former prime minister Paul Martin. “The analysis by Douglas Bland will make many uncomfortable but it is a wake-up call that must be read”.
Coates, Crowley and Newman regularly comment on Aboriginal issues in newspapers, on radio stations and in television interviews. Dr. Coates has been recruited by the Government of New Brunswick as a key adviser on Aboriginal issues. Dr. Crowley’s work on the East Coast Aboriginal fishery stopped the government from eliminating a major – and highly successful – program. Coates and Crowley’s work on the Northern Gateway pipeline influenced the Eyford report prepared for the Government of Canada. And Dr. Coates was invited to speak at British Columbia Premier Christy Clark’s Natural Resource Forum in Prince George in January 2015.