Collaboration with Indigenous people will pave the pathway to Canada's prosperous energy future, said Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr at the First Nations Forum on Energy in Vancouver on Wednesday.

Speaking to an audience of more than a hundred Indigenous, industry, and community representatives, he said only through traditional Indigenous knowledge of land, water, and precious natural resources could Canada achieve a clean, green, robust energy sector that provides ample employment and business opportunity.

"I’m convinced that the only way is with you, with your wisdom and with your support," he explained, promising that the previous government's frosty relationship with Indigenous people is over.

"This is where centuries of Indigenous culture and wisdom can ensure that economic prosperity and environmental performance go hand in hand, where we can incorporate the Indigenous practice of weighing what we do today with how it will affect the survival of the seven generations."

He was wrapped in a traditional blanket by Squamish Nation Chief Ian Campbell, Councillor Wendy Grant-John of the Musqueam Nation, and Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Manitoba Regional Chief Kevin Hart, who greeted the federal government's renewed commitments warmly.

Carr promised that the "rights and interests" of Indigenous people will be accommodated by the federal government from here on out when considering energy projects present and future, but later waffled on a National Observer question about whether the cabinet would pass a pipeline proposal that did not have explicit Indigenous consent.

Taking 'no' for an answer on pipeline projects

"We know that there will be no projects approved in Canada under the current regulatory scheme," he told reporters, emphasizing that the current pipeline regulatory process is undergoing an overhaul. "If you look at the record of pipeline infrastructure development since 2011, it’s not a particularly happy one, and this was at a time when you had $100-per-barrel oil, and you had governments in Alberta and Ottawa that were very much committed to these projects.

"Still, they didn’t proceed because they didn’t carry the confidence of Canadians, and part of the reason is that Indigenous people were not meaningfully consulted. They have to be. They will be."

Last month, the federal government announced an overdue energy project assessment makeover that would not only consider the impacts of pipelines on climate change, but engage in more meaningful consultation with Indigenous people as well. The overhaul also promised to appoint three new members to the National Energy Board, increase its Indigenous representation and take more time to assess both the controversial Trans Mountain and Energy East pipeline projects.

At the time, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs criticized these commitments by saying that Canada has always been required to consult Indigenous people, and should instead demonstrate willingness to take 'no' for an answer from nations like the Tsleil-Waututh, which has definitively rejected the construction of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion on its territory.

Defining 'meaningful consultation'

At the assembly, Carr did not comment on how the government would heed such rejections, but provided a more clear definition of 'meaningful consultation':

"That means it’s not a cup of coffee in a restaurant and to ask how you’re doing," he explained. "It’s to talk to Indigenous communities about those issues that matter most to them, the relationship with land and water, and the importance of honouring that relationship in meaningful ways.

"I think it means we listen intently and we engage respectfully."

He said unanimity on pipeline projects will never be a reasonable expectation, but if Indigenous leaders and the federal government continue to work together, the best chance for consensus on projects is in creating a new regulatory process that carries the confidence of Canadians. He said the NEB overhaul will begin immediately as the government engages Indigenous leaders on how project consultation should proceed in the future.

The AFN First Nations Forum on Energy is a three-day conference that examines the role of Indigenous people in shaping Canada's energy future, and how energy and resource development affects Indigenous rights and well-being.

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