The Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement, Greenpeace and Aboriginal Rights and Title

Page - December 6, 2012
The Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (CBFA), announced May 18, 2010, encompasses approximately 70 million hectares of land within Canada’s Boreal Forest. It was signed by nine environmental organizations, including Greenpeace, the Forest Products Association of Canada and its 21 member companies. Much of the land that the CBFA applies to overlaps pre-existing Treaties and Land Claims of Aboriginal Peoples.

Understandably, some Aboriginal people and organizations have raised concerns about whether the Agreement recognizes and respects Aboriginal Rights and Title and about an absence of involvement and consultation of First Nations. Greenpeace hopes to address these concerns in the statement below and the Q and A that follows.

Greenpeace recognizes Aboriginal Rights and Title and supports constitutionally recognized treaty and inherent Rights and Title of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. We support the just settlement of outstanding Rights and Title issues. We also recognize and respect the right and principle of Aboriginal Peoples to consultation, accommodation and consent. Accordingly, it is Greenpeace’s ongoing practice to highlight this, including within the forum of the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (CBFA).

The CBFA also recognizes Aboriginal Rights and Title. In no way is it an attempt to usurp Aboriginal Peoples’ efforts to resolve Rights and Title issues. It also recognizes that First Nations governments are decision-makers over their traditional territories.

The main focus of the CBFA is to try and resolve longstanding conflicts between the partner environmental organizations and forestry companies through the introduction of a conservation planning process that will ultimately lead to an increase in protected areas and more sustainable forest practices. It is hoped that this process will culminate in a Boreal Forest that is more responsive to a diverse range of interests - including the forest industry and conservation organizations – and decision-makers, including Aboriginal Peoples. The CBFA does not resolve, nor attempt to resolve, any outstanding issues that First Nations may have with forestry companies.

To successfully reach this goal, the signatories of the CBFA recognized the clear need for ongoing input from First Nations. For this reason, acknowledgement of the following elements has been built into the Agreement:

• That the Boreal Forest is uniquely important to Aboriginal Peoples;

• That best available information includes Indigenous traditional knowledge (ITK);

• That protected areas should permit traditional Aboriginal activities; and

• That protected areas should conserve Aboriginal cultural values.

Greenpeace will continue to build its existing relationships with First Nations and endeavour to foster new ones. We understand that future long-term solutions in the Boreal Forest depend on the full participation of Aboriginal Peoples.

Greenpeace’s Forest Campaigns and Indigenous Peoples

As an organization, our staff has worked for many years with First Nations and other Indigenous peoples in struggles over forestry and other industrial development on traditional territories, in Canada and elsewhere around the world. This work together has been beneficial, in our opinion, to both meeting Greenpeace's goals of greater protection and sustainable management of forests, and addressing the governance, conservation and other goals of Indigenous partners, colleagues and allies.

We support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and we communicate about and advocate for respect of Aboriginal Rights and Title, including the rights outlined in the Declaration, with forestry companies, forest products customers, and provincial and federal governments. This includes the requirement that informed consent from First Nations, including consultation and accommodation, must be obtained before companies and governments approve and engage in development in First Nations traditional territories.

Q & A on the CBFA and First Nations Rights and Title

Why is this agreement only between the forestry industry and environmental organisations?

Greenpeace recognizes the complexity and diversity of First Nations issues, in all provinces and across Canada. The CBFA parties agreed to keep these complex issues aside at this initial stage, with the understanding that First Nations would undoubtedly pursue these issues with the parties. As we have said repeatedly, the forestry industry and environmental signatories to the Agreement developed the Agreement to resolve long-standing differences between these two parties over the use of the Boreal Forest and the need to increase protection of important areas of the Boreal. We recognize that the CBFA does not resolve differences, where they exist, between First Nations and forestry companies.

Why were First Nations not consulted prior to the announcement of the CBFA?

At no time during the negotiations of the Agreement did the partners (forestry companies and environmental organisations) officially consult with municipal, provincial or federal governments. Similarly, at no time during these negotiations did the signatories officially consult with First Nation governments.

However, as a deal appeared to be imminent, the parties reached out and provided preliminary information to governments at all levels, including more than a dozen First Nation leaders nationally. CBFA partners are now providing briefings and will continue to communicate about the Agreement to a growing group of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal governments. In those meetings we are inviting and requesting Aboriginal governments to inform us how their particular communities, managers and governments want to be involved in the work contemplated under the Agreement. We are not predetermining the form of that engagement and do recognize that First Nations are decision-makers in land-use planning processes.

Does the Agreement recognize First Nations as governments?

Yes. The Agreement clearly recognizes Aboriginal governments under the “definitions” section, stating: “government means the federal government, a provincial or territorial government, a legally recognized Aboriginal government.”

Greenpeace also recognizes traditional First Nations’ leadership and governance structures.

Were First Nations leaders informed prior to the announcement?

Yes. Efforts were made to give preliminary information to more than a dozen First Nation leaders nationally and keep them apprised of progress on the development of the Agreement.

Will First Nations decision-making be respected in the implementation of the Agreement?

The Agreement signatories understand that its success depends on the support of First Nations and provincial governments. The parties to the agreement will do their best to persuade Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal governments, as well as Aboriginal communities, that the goals of the agreement are worthy of support. We recognize that the agreement can and will only be fully

implemented if First Nations are supportive of it. We also understand that First Nations and governments retain the authority to implement something different from the Agreement as the process unfolds; however, we will be looking to all decision-makers to maintain consistency with our recommendations as they will represent our best efforts at seeking resolution of our stakeholder interest.