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First Nations agree to pursue aboriginal ownership share of B.C. resource projects

Martin Louie of the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation during a signing ceremony in Vancouver in December 2011.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

First Nations chiefs in British Columbia's resource-rich north have banded together to pursue ownership of liquefied natural gas, mining and forestry projects.

Thirty-six hereditary and elected chiefs have signed an agreement to collectively benefit from resource development in their traditional territories.

Chief Martin Louie of the Nadleh Whut'en First Nation said Friday that a meeting to sign the agreement was triggered by concerns around consultation and environmental regulation of resource extraction.

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He said at least six more chiefs are expected to sign the agreement in the coming days.

Louie said aboriginal leaders are realizing they have the power to make change after a Supreme Court of Canada decision in June in favour of the Tsilhqot'in Nation, which was awarded aboriginal title to 1,750 kilometres of land in the remote Nemiah Valley near Williams Lake.

He said B.C. First Nations shouldn't have to resort to tactics like blockades or lawsuits because the decision has set a new standard in indigenous rights.

"The main thing the group talked about was the protection of the land and water and animals, and that a fair share of revenue isn't really something that's given to us," Louie said about the meeting in Prince George on Thursday.

He said the chiefs have a long list of environmental concerns they hope to have addressed with governments to protect their traditional territory – nearly all of northern B.C.

The agreement includes the Wet'suwet'en and Gitxsan near Prince Rupert, both of which have spoken out about the potential environmental impacts of resource development in their territories.

Wet'suwet'en Chief Theresa Day deemed the meeting a "historic" time for B.C. First Nations to come together.

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"Our time is here to take our rightful place in resource development in B.C.," she said in a statement.

"First Nations, for the first time, will be in the driver's seat to take control of our own future, end handouts and manage our own resources through our alliance."

The chiefs have committed to working together to better understand how an ownership approach might work, given the north's "great resource wealth, the increasing global demand for our territory's minerals and hydrocarbons, the scope and depth of climate change and other environmental pressures and challenges facing our territory," the agreement says.

Under the terms of the deal, the group will also consider asking Canada for a loan guarantee.

The chiefs plan to meet again in the new year to start exploring equity ownership options and then approach industry and provincial and federal governments.

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