OTTAWA–Aboriginal groups are seen as “adversaries” in the public relations battle over the tar sands, an internal government document revealed.
The document also identified the federal department of Aboriginal Affairs as an ally in the Harper government’s quest to improve the image of Alberta’s controversial tar sands development.
Federal ministers on Thursday immediately tried to distance themselves from the document, titled Pan-European Oil-Sands Advocacy Strategy, and dated March 2011.
The document, obtained by the Climate Action Network Canada under the Access to Information Act, surfaced Thursday on the heels of a Crown-First Nations gathering which saw the Harper government and First Nations chiefs, through the Assembly of First Nations, agree to joint plan to begin discussing a host of issues that have defied resolution for years.
The gathering was hailed as ushering in a “new day” in the relationship between Canada and First Nations by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The document, which was contained in an email sent by Kumar Gupta, a diplomat based in London, outlined a strategy for the Canadian government to execute in order to counter the negative publicity tar sands development has garnered in Europe.
The strategy document also identified First Nations as “influencers” in the battle over the tar sands, along with provincial and federal governments, energy companies and associations. The strategy also aimed to increase understanding among European “stakeholders” of Canada’s and Alberta’s consultation with First Nations and that both governments were working to “address” health concerns linked to the tar sands, the document states.
The decision to put Aboriginal groups under a list of “adversaries,” while the federal Aboriginal Affairs department was placed under a list of “allies,” however, reveals the true colours of the Conservative government, said Clayton Thomas-Muller, with the Indigenous Environment Network.
“It’s just another example of how the federal government went into (the Crown-First Nations Gathering) in bad faith,” said Thomas-Muller. “This government continues to try and erode the collective bargaining rights First Nations have as first peoples of this land and continues to label us as stakeholders when, in fact, we are priority rights holders.”
Thomas-Muller said the document also shows the government is concerned about the growing “Indigenous rights movement,” which he said has increasing clout.
“We have a generation of young people that are coming up that are more educated than any generation since colonization,” he said. “We have (AFN National Chief) Shawn Atleo sitting there at the meeting and negotiating how we as First Nations can participate in an economy that will result in the destruction and desecration of our homeland. We need to come up with a new path.”
A spokesperson for Aboriginal Affairs said the department had no comment because the file was in the hands of Natural Resources Canada.
An AFN spokesperson said the organization would “not be providing any comments on this topic.”
The National Energy Board, which is the independent body tasked with approving or rejecting energy projects, was also listed as an ally in the document.
Environment Minister Peter Kent told Postmedia Thursday that the government does not use the labels of “allies” or “adversaries.” Kent said Canada uses arguments based on “facts and science” to promote Alberta bitumen.
“I think that’s a gross mischaracterization of reality,” said Kent.