Centre of Expertise on Impact and Benefit Agreements: an important ally
Natural resource development projects carried out on traditional Indigenous territories offer exciting economic development opportunities, but they can also disrupt the environment and the First Nations' traditional way of life.
Communities that want development projects on their territory must be able to negotiate effectively and on an equal footing with developers in order to gain potential economic benefits, and avoid negative impacts on their members and the environment.
This type of negotiation is often complex and costly. To support communities in these efforts, the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Sustainable Development Institute (FNQLSDI) created the multi-disciplinary Centre of Expertise on Impact and Benefit Agreements (CEIBA) in 2016, with the support of Indigenous Services Canada. CEIBA's mission is to support communities in the agreement negotiation process, particularly in the mining, forestry and energy sectors.
"There are 5 main areas of work that we do every day in First Nations communities," explains Olivier Courtemanche, lawyer and CEIBA coordinator. "First, we develop resources to help the communities answer questions that come up regularly during negotiations with developers. We call this our toolbox." This toolbox includes a variety of resources such as training, newsletters and sample agreements that can be used by the communities.
The second area is project analysis. "Our forestry engineer and our geologist, in partnership with the First Nations, do analytical work leading up to the projects to target the potential impact on the communities' rights and territories." These analyses form the basis for CEIBA and the communities to enter into relationships with the developers.
"We also have a negotiation preparation component," continues Olivier Courtemanche. "Working with communities, we establish objectives, create negotiation teams and anticipate questions or objections that may be raised by developers during negotiations."
Then, the CEIBA team participates in the negotiations and the signing of agreements. The team adapts its interventions based on its clients' needs: "Several communities have significant experience, while others are negotiating their very first agreements. In these cases, we can play a more active role during negotiations."
Finally, CEIBA deals with the implementation of the agreements. CEIBA provides communities with support in monitoring negotiated agreements to ensure they are respected. This is a role that CEIBA plans to expand in the future: "We would like to establish a sub-team that will work full time on implementing agreements. It is a need that was expressed by the communities we work with, and we want to be able to meet this need."
Work that pays off
Since its creation, CEIBA has:
- collaborated with 15 First Nations communities and 2 tribal councils in Quebec
- carried out more than 100 different projects related to natural resource development
Alain Bédard, Acting Director of CEIBA, notes that since CEIBA's inception, an increasing number of communities are interested in and benefiting from impact and benefit agreements. He offers 3 examples:
- a First Nation that was able to reappropriate a part of its territory thanks to funding received under an agreement by building camps for its members
- a community that was able to negotiate moving a forestry project
- a community that was able to protect a fish spawning ground so its members could continue to enjoy the territory they have always occupied
He continues: "One of CEIBA's strengths is that it engages the communities to work together to achieve their objectives. It has been a big success." It has also been a big success for First Nations: "The communities that receive funding under the agreements can implement new projects, build infrastructure and offer more services to their members."
CEIBA benefited from the support of Indigenous Services Canada through the True North Treasure and Forest Full Value initiatives, under the Government of Canada's Strategic Partnerships Initiative (SPI). To learn more about the SPI, visit the Strategic Partnerships Initiative or send an email to the SPI Secretariat: IPS-SPI@canada.ca.
Natural Resources Canada also financially supported CEIBA through the Indigenous Forestry Initiative.
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