Alberta's new climate-change policy strengthens the hand of First Nations in energy project planning, an aboriginal leader says.
"Anything that's done to our land, our resources, meaningful consultation needs to happen before anything starts," said Steve Courtoreille, Grand Chief of the Treaty 8 First Nations, whose land is where most oil sands development has occurred.
The role of aboriginals is a key feature of the panel report that formed the basis of the government's new policy announced last Sunday. "We have integrated throughout our recommendations, and addressed specifically, the importance of full inclusion of Aboriginal Peoples in action on climate change," it says.
The report recommends "concrete partnerships" with First Nations on renewable energy and climate change adaptation. It also says aboriginal communities should be sheltered from the effects of carbon reduction and a centre for traditional knowledge should be created.
Mr. Courtoreille said concerns over the impact of development on land and water can't be separated from the issue of climate change.
First Nations have long argued that they should be involved in designing projects rather than being simply presented with completed plans and asked for approval. They have also demanded a stronger role in monitoring the effects of development, not only by conducting the work themselves but also in directing what is monitored.
Aboriginals want to ensure the right questions are being asked to address their concerns about the health effects of development, Mr. Courtoreille said. "We're not saying no development. Do it in a responsible way."
Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said the government will assist First Nations in developing the technical capacity to contribute to better environmental planning and monitoring.
"We need to take seriously our work around building capacity, so that indigenous people can meaningfully participate in the growing of a greener economy such that the new economy does not replicate the exclusions of the old," she said.
The government could also consider how a company works with local aboriginals when it comes to auctioning off renewable power credits, she added.
"The government could consider weighting how we do those auctions towards projects that can demonstrate meaningful participation by indigenous people."
Ms. Phillips agreed that aboriginals should have input into how proposals are designed and monitored.
"We do intend to work collaboratively to ensure we are getting it right on traditional land use."
She promised more information by the end of the year or early in 2016.
Mr. Courtoreille said he thinks the greenhouse gas emissions cap placed on oil sands development is a good idea. He called the policy a good first step and is waiting to hear how the government plans to follow up.
"I'd like to see where we can go from here. We're waiting to respond to what are the next steps."