Mark W. Podlasly on Indigenous stakes in Canadian projects

On this week’s episode of Free Lunch by The Peak, we sat down with Mark W. Podlasly, a member of the Nlaka’pamux Nation and the chief sustainability officer for the First Nations Major Projects Coalition to talk about how Indigenous communities across the country are taking ownership stakes in major clean energy, resource development, and infrastructure projects.

What are some of the guarantees and rights in the Royal Proclamation of 1763? 

”The Royal Proclamation, in its wording and its application, covers British-held territories in North America. Which is all of Canada, every centimetre. That proclamation recognized Indigenous people as nations. That recognition of nations is where the First Nation concept comes from. That recognition of rights and lands still exists today in Canada. That’s what is driving a lot of the discussions around treaty negotiations, and in areas of the country which do not have treaties, about who owns the underlying title to the country and the resources.”

What are some of the tensions that arise between the government and First Nations? 

”Conflict over land use arises because Indigenous rights are a federal responsibility, while mining and resource use is a provincial responsibility. You get this conflict at times when the province is exercising what they see as their right to land, or there’s a disagreement between what is in the treaties and what is expected by the First Nations in their historical relationship with Canada. This layering of interests becomes very complicated to a proponent who's simply trying to get a permit to build something on land that they think is Crown land.”

What sparked the creation of the First Nations Major Projects Coalition? 

“To answer the question: How do you raise capital when you have no assets or collateral because everything you think is yours is owned by the Crown? The 152 communities in the coalition want to be involved in projects that are compatible with their cultural, and economic perspectives, but all of their assets are held in trust by His Majesty for our use. So that puts First Nations in an unusual situation when they have an opportunity to buy into a pipeline, they'd go to a bank and the first question is what are your assets? What is your collateral?” 

Can you talk about some of the projects you’re currently working on?

“One area we are interested in is clean energy projects. In Fort Nelson, there's a geothermal plant proposal that is 100% owned by the Fort Nelson First Nation. We’re assisting by not only finding the capital to make the investment but also the technical resources. There are other projects in British Columbia, New Brunswick, Ontario — I could go on. By taking a stake in these projects, we’re starting to have a say in how the projects are built and see revenues starting to flow back to the community so they can put that money toward their priorities.”

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Listen to the full conversation here.