There’s no doubt about it: Canadian oil and gas development is often a controversial topic. One of the problems with controversies is that they are sometimes misrepresented and misunderstood. And one of the most notoriously misrepresented and clichéd controversies is the position of indigenous peoples regarding oil and gas development.
Setting the record straight was a key focus of the 2019 National Coalition of Chiefs (NCC) Energy and Natural Resource Summit held in Calgary last month.
“We want to create a strong and united community of First Nations and Métis leaders to be able to speak out in favour of economic development,” NCC president Dale Swampy of the Samson Cree Nation explains with enthusiasm and positivity. “To speak out in favour of projects that will help us address poverty. The majority of First Nations in this country are in favour of responsible resource development. We need jobs, own-source revenues and business opportunities to get out of poverty.
“Wewant to show that it’s OK, and it’s necessary, for us to become partners and owners in the resource development industry,” he adds. “The more First Nations can work directly with industry, as equals, the better.”
Swampy is open and candid about facts and details sometimes getting confused in controversy. “Many NGOs and environmentalists are using indigenous peoples to further their own agendas, for example, by using First Nations’ right to take companies or governments to court, hold up or cancel projects. And while it’s everyone’s right to fight for what they believe in, I think it’s predatory for these groups to go into communities struggling with poverty, and use them to remove one of their best chances at creating jobs and community revenues. It’s unethical.
“The National Coalition of Chiefs was created to provide a strong and united voice for indigenous leaders who support energy and natural resource projects that can help address the economic needs of our people.
“We are tired of activists and politicians speaking on our behalf and against our interests,” he emphasizes. “Indigenous peoples have economic rights too.”
There was much frank, open and constructive discussion and opinion sharing at the summit, when more than 80 chiefs from across Canada, several hundred Canadian natural resource industry representatives and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney met in Calgary. They were there to network and discuss the common understanding between chiefs seeking to develop their natural resources and generate economic development and the industry leaders interested in indigenous engagement and partnership in their projects.
The summit speakers and info sessions underscored that most of the social issues that plague First Nations have poverty at their root. There was discussion and agreement about revenue-generating opportunities for First Nations to make a dent in community poverty and that oil and gas production and transmission provides a real solution.
A key result of the summit was the launch of Indigenous Strong, the first organization of its kind comprised solely of indigenous workers committed to supporting Canada’s oil and gas industry through public rallies and social media.
“In addition to facilitating a community of indigenous workers, Indigenous Strong will share and promote employment opportunities, business contracts and partnerships in the oil and gas industry to its members,” the NCC president points out. “And it will help recruit and retain more First Nations and Métis people in the workforce.”