Predictions for a new political era— trends in Aboriginal issues in 2006

This is the 4thbulletin in a 5 part series concerning the challenges and opportunitiesexpected to present themselves in BC over the coming year.

After reviewing our commentaries regarding the implications of a new Conservative minoritygovernment for this year’s trends in forestry, energyand democracy, we find ourselves staring at the stars for some guidance.

  • How are these changes going to affect the Aboriginal peoplesin BC? 
  • Will Gordon Campbell’s talk of a “newrelationship” with First Nations hit the ground or will business as usual – thefast tracking of projects on unceded lands – continue in 2006?
  • How will theinevitable conflict be resolved between this new relationship, and the provincialLiberals’ desire to open up offshore oil, further increase mineral explorationand provide more certainty to companies operating on unceded lands in BC?

These were a few of the questions posed as we cast ourglance at the astrological charts in search of some answers.

And what did we see on the horizon? 

Tough talk and new relationship

Well, the federal Liberals were definitely notgroundbreakers on native issues, but we can expect an even greater stepbackwards (at least initially) from Mr. Harper’s Conservatives.

As in the early years of Gordon Campbell’s provincialLiberals, Conservative leaders are well known for their anti-native sentiments.So expect more “get tough on natives” talk from Ottawa.This will cause yet another slow-down in treaty negotiations and other mattersthat involve a federal role.

However, you can expect the federals to undergo an attitudinalshift similar to the one we’ve seen from the BC Liberals.   

In just three years, Gordon Campbell has flip flopped from arabid anti-native activist, filing lawsuits to reverse the only modern treatysigned in BC (i.e. the Nisga’a Treaty ratified in 2000), to being the ambassadorfor a “new relationship” with First Nations. Expect a similar flip flop fromthe Conservatives as they come to recognize they can’t ignore Aboriginalpeoples’ increased power over resource issues, particularly in the west.

Now that First Nations are faced with a more overtly anti-nativegovernment in Ottawa, they willlikely respond by de-prioritizing negotiations and ratcheting up moreaggressive tactics.

The Aboriginal response

In the face of more “on-the-ground” standoffs over logging,fishing, mining and fossil fuel developments, the Conservatives will realizethat their bully tactics, not to mention their anticipated withdrawal from long-negotiatedcommitments including the recent $5 billion Kelowna Accord, are only going topromote more confrontational tactics like lawsuits, direct action andinterventions in the financial markets.

While the hard-hitting rhetoric may win some votes for theConservatives, the uncertainty created around resource issues will quicklyencourage a more moderate approach. Even the arch conservative Business Councilof BC has been lobbying for governments to moderate their approach and makeconcessions to First Nations to avoid uncertainty.

We expect the tough talk out of Ottawa,and the difficult implementation of the so-called new relationship, to fuelincreased conflicts in 2006.

We predict Aboriginal hot spots will develop around coalbedmethane, the offshore oil and gas moratorium, tanker traffic on BC’s northerncoast, the Enbridge pipeline, the explosion of new mining claims/projects, theongoing deregulation of logging and softwood lumber.

Softwood

Speaking of softwood, one example of this increasedcombativeness is that First Nations in Canadamay throw some mud into the endless softwood tug-of-war. They are consideringfiling lawsuits in US courts to freeze some of the $5 billion (and growing)tariffs as “proceeds from stolen property”. Their argument goes like this:

The Canadian Supreme Court has ruled that title exists andincludes an interest in the resources on titled lands. It has also ruled thattitle includes an “inescapable economiccomponent.” Nonetheless, millions of trees continue to be logged from uncededAboriginal lands with no revenue flowing to the First Nations.

Companies have sold this wood across the border and paidtariffs on it. So there is an argument that a portion of the money being heldin the U.S.treasury should belong to the First Nations from whose lands the trees werelogged.

Due to the political realities, this novel legal approach isunlikely to result in First Nations getting any of the tariff money. However,if First Nations are successful in putting a “lien” (legal block) on this money and preventing its distribution,they would suddenly have potent, unprecedented leverage in any ensuingnegotiations.

This new precedent would also have far-reaching implicationsfor global trade disputes related to resources. Almost all these disputesinvolve some aspect of indigenous rights which, having been overlooked until nowwould suddenly have teeth.

Sovereignty

While incentives for economic partnerships are expected toincrease under a Conservative Prime Minister, as they did with Campbell’sLiberals, expect a stalling of efforts intended to recognize First Nations’self-government aspirations.

Although Stephen Harper envisions a decentralized federalismwith more power and authority being transferred to the provinces, don’t expectsimilar power transfers to First Nations.

In fact, expect existing processes like those outlined inthe recent Kelowna accord to stallor regress.

So just as the political climate in Victoriaappears to be warming (though we await a change in the business as usual approachto resource issues) , a chill may occur in Ottawa.

Overall, Aboriginal people could be the biggest losers underMr. Harper’s minority government. While the prospects aren’t good, effectivestrategies can force surprise outcomes. After all, it was Nixon that opened updialogue with communist China,and Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species legislation were all passedby renowned anti-environmental Republicans in the U.S. 

But don’t hold your breath.

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Read our predictionson energy trends for 2006.

Read our predictionson forestry trends for 2006

Read our predictions on democratic trends for 2006

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