Free, prior and informed consent for certainty, prosperity [resource development and First Nations] – by Shane Maffat (Greenpeace Blogpost – April 13, 2012)

A lot of effort has been made, by Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver and others, to portray the principle of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) for industrial development in traditional Indigenous territories as somehow obstructionist, an impediment to “progress”. This is as intentional as it is disingenuous.

Enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Canada has formally endorsed, the principle arose from a shared experience of Indigenous communities around the world whereby “consultations” have almost exclusively constituted a rubber stamp for unfettered resource exploitation to benefit a wealthy few and large corporations. The broader global context, Greenpeace and others would argue, is one of environmental, economic and social unsustainability which has in great part been caused by the heedless exploitation of lands where Indigenous peoples have been ignored, and their authority eroded.

How to address the recurring phenomenon of rubber stamp consultations, which has, and continues, to produce such negative results for people and planet alike? After more than two decades of multilateral negotiations between Indigenous peoples (including many of Canada’s own Indigenous leaders), UN member-states, observers from UN organs and specialized agencies, the finely balanced principle we now know as FPIC has emerged as the internationally recognized minimum human rights standard for solving the conundrum.

FPIC is of course a lot more solutions-oriented than usually portrayed. The key is that when either party in a consultation can walk away from the process in good faith, negotiating on an equal footing is possible, since the end result is not already predetermined. Consent under FPIC is considered to be an iterative, ongoing process, rather than a once-off. Much the same as democracies reject the idea of “one man, one vote, one time”, the idea here is that a community’s consent requires a continuing dialogue. It also requires consent at all levels within a community, rather than the consent of a select few within a community. This is intended to deliver certainty and stability for all parties.

Of course, all we ever hear in the media is that consent is a no-go, unrealistic or merely aspirational.

But if we look at the state of play in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and elsewhere in Canada, it is the status quo that is in fact not sustainable. The basis for consultation with First Nations and other Indigenous communities in Canada badly needs the principle of consent – in order to achieve certainty, sustainability and prosperity. The status quo cannot hold.

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