What does Bill C-69 mean for Indigenous peoples?

(Kayleigh Valentine / The McGill Policy Association)

(Kayleigh Valentine / The McGill Policy Association)

Bill C-69, first introduced to the Canadian House of Commons in February 2018, proposes to implement the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, as well as amending the Navigation Protection Act, among others.

The Impact Assessment Act aims to determine the environmental, health, social, and economic effects of a project before it comes to fruition. Although the bill aims to enforce protective measures for endangered populations and activities, it can also be seen as a way to hinder the energy industry as companies would oppose increased regulation. Critics of the bill, including scholars from the University of Calgary, said that it could make approval for energy projects increasingly difficult to obtain, which would give little reason to invest in Canada’s energy sector.

Despite speculations that it may harm the national economy, Bill C-69 may also present social benefits for Indigenous peoples. Historically, their relationship with the Government of Canada has been strained particularly due to oppressive and widely criticized laws such as the Indian Act. This oppression has been exacerbated by an ever-expanding energy policy, led by corporations such as the state-owned energy giant Hydro-Québec. Projects occurring in the past five years have elicited pushback, while endeavors such as the James Bay hydroelectric dam are reminders of a long-standing history of systematic discrimination against Indigenous peoples.

However, some Indigenous leaders have challenged the idea that Bill C-69 would prove beneficial to their respective communities. The bill has been criticized for lacking comprehensive consultation with Indigenous peoples, especially since it would present drawbacks for individuals involved in the oil industry. There is an ongoing discussion between First Nations, Métis, and the Inuit people to determine how these projects fit into their economic futures.

Indigenous peoples have also put forward energy production proposals. For instance, representatives of the Innu Nation have advocated for the Apuiat wind project, hoping to create hundreds of jobs in the Côte-Nord, Gaspésie, and Bas-Saint-Laurent regions while providing an opportunity for reconciliation. However, the Government of Quebec has abandoned the project, claiming it was economically unviable, and ordered Hydro-Québec to compensate communities in the Quebec’s North Shore differently.

Public resistance to hydropower projects also stems from the risk they pose to Indigenous lands and food sources. The Pessamit, an Innu community, has ancestral lands that are currently the source of almost one-third of Hydro-Quebec’s hydropower. Fluctuating water levels resulting from hydroelectric generation on the Betsiamites River have reduced the number of salmon that can be accessed by the Pessamit. Similar concerns over threatened Indigenous histories and livelihoods have been echoed in the protests of the Wet'suwet'en and Unist'ot'en, who have resisted energy projects taking place on their land.

Since the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) victory, First Nations leaders have reminded Premier François Legault about his commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). They have also requested that the CAQ prioritize Indigenous issues, such as preserving Indigenous languages and dealing with high suicide rates in Indigenous communities.

Although Bill C-69 promotes environmental protection, consulting with members from multiple Indigenous communities is essential to prevent exploitation of Indigenous lands. Attention should be given to the interests of Indigenous peoples, not just those of governmental or corporate entities.