Northern B.C. in spotlight at First Nations forum

Northern B.C. was in the spotlight during the first day of the Nation 2 Nation forum in Vancouver on Thursday.

Along with an LNG announcement (see related story, page 4), major Prince George names in First Nations culture and in industry populated the conference room at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver.

Some of the highlights included co-moderator Dan George, one of the founders of the Prince George Native Friendship Centre; Ray Gerow, a previous Citizen of the Year and Chamber of Commerce Business Person of the Year in Prince George; Veronica Ghostkeeper of the New Relationship Trust; Derek Orr, chief of the McLeod Lake First Nation; Zishan Shah, economic development officer for the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation; and John Rustad, Nechako Lakes MLA and Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation.

“There isn’t a single path forward,” said Rustad in his keynote address, discussing the different ways that B.C.’s 200-plus First Nations are set up for governance and participating in the overall economy. It was meant as a point of excitement and inspiration. The economy is so diverse and the opportunities so open, in the current position of aboriginal-industrial relations, that a menu of options exist.

There is really only one path forward for industrialists, however, he inferred, and that was to drive to the front door of any First Nation on which you wish to do business.

“If you go out and engage with First Nations, talk about what it is you want to do, you find common ground, you get through to that opportunity and onto that path to success,” he said.

“It means taking that time to make those relationships.”

There were plenty of cases, almost all of them in northern B.C., where mining and forestry companies had their business hopes shot down due to improper consultation with the affected First Nations. The most positive example he could think of, however, was from his own back yard in the Prince George area, and it stood as a model to follow, he said.

“When you have a community say ‘no, never, this mine will never go ahead’ then eight years later they have been at the discussion table and they send a letter to government saying ‘get on with this mine,’ that is a big shift. And by the way, that was the Kemess North project I’m talking about.”

Kemess North is a copper-gold proposal in the Mackenzie area, rejected stoutly by the three affected aboriginal groups, the Takla Lake, Tsay Keh Dene and Kwadacha peoples. Once the project was sold to a mining company that came back to those aboriginal interests with ears felt to be more open and an attitude of sharing in the revenues and the human resource benefits, the indigenous attitudes also changed.

The key, said Rustad, was that it wasn’t a change of feeling, it was a change of design. The opposition was rooted in environmental problems.

The new company, AuRico Gold, committed to new ways of mining that fit the goals of the First Nations.

Rustad cited New Gold Inc. as another example to follow. That company went to the affected First Nations first, before deeply sinking investment into exploration and government licensing, to partner up on the Blackwater gold project south of Vanderhoof. That project is moving towards construction with all parties on side already.

“Too long, industrial activity has gone on on First Nations territory that the First Nation got little or no benefit from,” Rustad said.

“That has to change. It has changed. All projects going forward depend on First Nations being part of the projects.”

Dan George now lives in the Kamloops area where he operates Four Directions Management Services, a company offering strategy and facilitation with aboriginal content.

George said, as advice to industrialists, “solutions aren’t always about money. Be curious.

“Lead with questions.

“Recognize your ignorance or blind spots.

“When the people see themselves reflected in the project, that helps a lot.”

He pointed at Nation 2 Nation founder and operator and former Prince George resident Lisa Mueller as “one of our dynamic young leaders” by calling these interests together into one room.

That, too, had strong northern foundations.

“This was started in Terrace, and last year we held it in Williams Lake. Now we are trying it in Vancouver to expand that provincial awareness. We would definitely like to move it around and keep the voices in the north being heard,” Mueller said.

 – See more at: http://www.princegeorgecitizen.com/news/local-news/northern-b-c-in-spotlight-at-first-nations-forum-1.13560812#sthash.XXtHMvtr.dpuf
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Posted by on 12:39 pm. Filed under BC Economy, Economic Development, Employment, Featured, First Nations, Mining, North Central, North Coast, North East, North West, Oil & Gas, Prince George, Prince Rupert, Terrace, Vanderhoof, Williams Lake. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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