VANCOUVER, Dec 5 (Reuters) - Canada must do more to build trust with aboriginal communities to win their support for resource projects such as oil pipelines and natural gas terminals, a report said on Thursday.
“There has not been a constructive dialogue about energy projects. Aboriginal leaders are prepared to engage and Canada will need to address issues on their agenda,” Douglas Eyford, the federal government’s special representative on west coast energy infrastructure, said in the 58-page report.
Eyford was appointed in March to look at ways of boosting energy exports while increasing aboriginal participation in the economy.
Canada has long had poor relations with its million-strong native Indian population, which is largely beset with poverty, poor housing and high unemployment.
Unhappiness is growing and, over the last year, aboriginal bands have blockaded roads and rail lines, and barricaded entry to mining and energy projects.
Many aboriginal bands strongly dislike Enbridge Corp’s plans for the Northern Gateway pipeline to take crude from the Alberta tar sands to the Pacific Coast of British Columbia and then on to Asian customers.
Some bands oppose the pipeline on environmental grounds, while others complain the government has long ignored laws that say they must be consulted on industrial development.
“Canada must take decisive steps to build trust with aboriginal Canadians, to foster their inclusion into the economy, and to advance the reconciliation of aboriginal people and non-aboriginal people,” Eyford said.
Energy projects could provide training, jobs and business opportunities for aboriginal people in Alberta and British Columbia, the report found.
“Historically, aboriginal Canadians have not benefited from natural resource developments in their traditional territories to the same degree as non-aboriginal Canadians,” wrote Eyford, who spent eight months consulting with aboriginal communities.
But while aboriginal leaders were aware of the potential benefits resource development could bring their people, the report found that environmental impact remains a major concern.
“Aboriginal Canadians view themselves as connected to the environment and as its stewards; this is an integral aspect of their culture. The projects, by their nature, create potential hazards in the terrestrial and marine environments,” he wrote.
Eyford also made a distinction between groups that do not accept major projects because they believe the transport of oil and natural gas is unsafe, and groups that see development as inevitable but want it to be as safe as possible.
The Northern Gateway pipeline would ship bitumen to the port of Kitimat in northern British Columbia. National energy regulators are to rule on the project this month.
Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP has also proposed a new pipeline to carry oil from Alberta to the coast. The government released a report on Tuesday that urged an overhaul of tanker safety plans ahead of increased traffic on Canadian waters.
Eyford said that federal, provincial and municipal bodies must also work with aboriginal communities to assess cumulative effects of resource developments on the environment and to encourage sustainable development.
Indeed, Eyford put the onus on Canada to ensure that aboriginals play a meaningful role in future resource projects and see the long-term economic benefits from them.
“Commitments from governments, Aboriginal leaders, and industry are required to translate these recommendations into concrete actions,” he wrote. “Canada, as the senior level of government, needs to assert leadership to achieve these objectives.”
Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, as well as a coalition of aboriginal groups, were due to respond to the report later on Thursday.