Media Release: Algonquin First Nations call out Canada for stalling on Indigenous rights regulation, urge immediate action by Federal Cabinet

Media Release

Algonquin First Nations call out Canada for stalling on Indigenous rights regulation, urge immediate action by Federal Cabinet 

Temiscaming – Kebaowek First Nation, supported by Long Point First Nation and Mitchikinabikok Inik – Algonquins of Barrier Lake, call upon the Federal Cabinet to immediately pass a key regulation under Canada’s Impact Assessment Act that would recognize Indigenous jurisdiction when information-gathering and decision-making occurs under the Act in relation to environmentally significant projects (i.e. pipelines). Until this overdue regulation is passed, the First Nation is requesting a pause in all ongoing federal assessments of projects proposed in their unceded and traditional Algonquin territory.

“So long as Canada holds all the power and defines how and when First Nations can participate in assessments of projects that directly affect our lands and territory, they are not meeting their moral, legal and constitutional obligations to protect Indigenous rights and interests,” said Chief Lance Haymond of Kebaowek First Nation. “We’re also asking that First Nations across Turtle Island join this effort, to decolonize Canada’s unfair impact assessment process and hold Canada accountable to the principles of UNDRIP.”

Chief Haymond’s remarks follow a recent letter sent by Kebaowek’s lawyers to Canada’s Environment Minister, Johnathan Wilkinson, to request that the Government of Canada immediately develop – with meaningful Indigenous input – a jurisdictional regulation under the Act to empower Indigenous governing bodies and give them a greater role in federal impact assessments.

“When Canada enacted the Impact Assessment Act in 2019, it included new provisions to increase Indigenous rights protection by enhancing Indigenous participation in the assessment process,” stated Kerrie Blaise, an environmental lawyer who represents Kebaowek First Nation. “Unfortunately, these provisions have not been fully acted upon to date, and the necessary regulation aimed at protecting Indigenous rights has not been made.”

Section 114 of the Act enables the Environment Minister to enter into agreements with Indigenous governments so that they can exercise certain powers or functions under the Act in relation to the assessment of major projects which could impact their rights and traditional territory. However, a regulation designating Indigenous governing bodies, like Kebaowek First Nation, as a “jurisdiction” under the Act must be passed before these agreements can be made.

In a letter to Chief Haymond dated January 27, 2021, Minister Wilkinson states that “Canada values its relationship” with Kebaowek First Nation. However, the Minister’s letter remains noncommittal on the passing of the regulation, noting that it remains at an “early stage,” and that “adequate time” is needed to engage “Indigenous partners” in developing the Regulation. However, no firm time frame or clear deadline is set out in the Minister’s letter for the passage of the regulation.

Now faced with a dozen significant projects proposed on traditional Algonquin lands, Kebaowek First Nation is again requesting that Canada end its unjustified and unacceptable delay in making this important regulation. Until Canada passes an Indigenous jurisdiction regulation under the Act, Kebaowek First Nation’s hands remain effectively tied, and the new provisions in the Act remain hollow, unfulfilled, and unavailable for reconciliation purposes.

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Chief Lance Haymond, Kebaowek First Nation, 819-627-3455

Kerrie Blaise, Northern Services Counsel, Canadian Environmental Law Association, 416-960-2284 ext 7224