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Eva Clayton is President of the Nisga’a Lisims Government. Sharleen Gale is the Chief of Fort Nelson First Nation and the Chair of the First Nations Major Projects Coalition. Harold Leighton is Chief Councillor of Metlakatla First Nation. Crystal Smith is Chief Councillor of the Haisla Nation. Joey Wesley is Councillor with the Lax Kw’alaams Band.

As we reach the end game in our fight against COVID-19, policy-makers are becoming preoccupied with what the recovery will look like. Addressing climate change, improving Indigenous well-being, and building a strong resource economy all rank high on the list of priorities in the Canadian political landscape. And last week, our nations came together on an initiative that could show the way forward on how we can advance all three simultaneously.

The First Nations Climate Initiative and the First Nations Major Projects Coalition represent 70 First Nations from across six provinces and territories collectively. On Dec. 16, we signed an agreement that will advance an Indigenous-led, net-zero carbon-emissions policy framework, including nature-based solutions for carbon capture.

The strategy is not hypothetical. Our nations are already advancing energy projects which will contribute to these goals. They include the Cedar LNG project on Haisla territory in northwest B.C., the Ne Too hydropower project being advanced by four Carrier Nations in central B.C., and the Clarke Lake geothermal project in Fort Nelson First Nation territory in northeast B.C.

These projects provide affordable clean energy in Canada and beyond, but they’re also big business. According to the Conference Board of Canada, liquified natural gas could generate $500-billion in investment in Canada between 2020 and 2064, with the aim of displacing coal in Asian energy markets in the coming decades, which would reduce emissions by far more than what hitting targets in Canada can achieve. That infrastructure would also set the stage for activity in the emerging hydrogen market.

Canada is already the third-largest producer of hydropower in the world, but smart business strategies could attract another $125-billion in investment in the coming decades, according to the Canadian Hydropower Association. This could help to shift the enormous American energy market toward renewable sources. While geothermal energy is still new in Canada, several new projects, including Clarke Lake, are now coming online, and benefit from the competitive advantage provided by the vast drilling and well experience in Western Canada.

Altogether, our partnership highlights three important Canadian trends. The first is that investors are putting real dollars into energy projects that will charge the low-carbon economy of the future. Our legacy sectors will be important for decades to come, but the energy transition is happening – and that’s a good thing from both an environmental perspective and an economic one.

The second trend is that Indigenous nations are increasingly involved in these major energy projects as partners and owners. We are no longer satisfied with a few contracts or royalties; we want equity, as our nations work to create intergenerational prosperity. This might have seemed transformational – even radical – just a few years ago. But now it’s accepted by many of Canada’s biggest companies as a means to advance resource development in Indigenous territories. And investors are not seeing this as a threat; they are seeing it as an opportunity, because it hits so many of the ESG performance targets – environmental, social and corporate governance factors – that their stakeholders expect.

Third, it demonstrates a new kind of collaboration that First Nations are pursuing with each other: one that favours action and results in tangible and independent benefits for our members. For a long time, First Nations institutions in Canada have revolved around delivering paternalistic programs and lobbying federal and provincial governments; the success of such efforts has depended to a great extent on the mood in Ottawa. What this memorandum of understanding between FNMPC and FNCI shows is that we aren’t waiting around for other governments to lead any more. We are building our own partnerships, making our own deals and creating a low-carbon economy where we own a major stake.

In the wake of the pandemic, our First Nations are looking for a Great Reset of our own. For us, that means retaking our rightful place as environmental, political and business leaders in our territories. Because it is more common for our communities to think in terms of generations-long planning, rather than in four-year election cycles, we believe we will have an advantage when it comes to capitalizing on the forthcoming energy revolution. Our nations have taken an important step toward this bright future with a growing constituency of like-minded First Nations, and we hope that the coalition of supporting industry, governments and civil society institutions grows and takes heed.

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