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There’s Much to Learn from Past Campaigns in Neighbouring Provinces

Cody Battershill

Does anyone remember B.C.’s infamous “War in the Woods,” the forestry land-use conflicts of the 1990s? According to many of the participants I’ve spoken with over the years, it wasn’t much fun. In particular, a few First Nation leaders whose people relied on forestry revenues found the activist anti-forestry campaigns hurtful. Indigenous communities were fractured, in large part by external campaign forces.

I’ve written elsewhere about the parallels between the old War in the Woods and the current campaign to block Coastal GasLink, the pipeline that would connect northeast B.C. to a new liquefied natural gas terminal in Kitimat. Every one of the 20 elected First Nation councils along the proposed route supports the project. But activists oppose it completely.

It’s a similar situation to Teck Frontier, the oilsands mining project located between Fort McMurray and Fort Chipewyan in northeast Alberta that’s committed to incorporating best practices for environmental protection, tailings management, water use and managing greenhouse gases.

A joint review panel from the Alberta Energy Regulator and the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada has already recommended approval of Teck Frontier. Teck Resources, the proponent, has publicly committed to eliminate its CO2 emissions by 2050 and is already subject to a carbon tax on its product.

In short, Teck Frontier is a great story of Alberta innovation, a fact that hasn’t escaped the attention of local indigenous leaders who see the project as a pathway to responsible development and an antidote to local systemic poverty. They’re interested in the fact Teck Frontier could employ an estimated 7,000 workers during construction and up to 2,500 workers during operation.

This helps explain why 14 local indigenous bands around the mining site have signed on with the project in order to help lift their communities out of poverty and into an era of economic reconciliation and the prosperity that comes with it.

Does it satisfy U.S. film star Joaquin Phoenix, the recent campaigner against everything from Teck Frontier to the dairy industry? Obviously not.

But if you consider the International Energy Agency estimates global energy demand will grow by 32 per cent by 2040, and if you acknowledge Canada’s strong reputation for responsible resource development, then it makes sense Canada would continue to play a central role in meeting that demand with projects like this.

I won’t speak for indigenous communities or their leaders, but I see their growing frustration over having to manage systemic poverty rather than participate in economic opportunities that would help them move to a new model – a safe, secure and sustainable future for their community members, and especially their youth.

Isn’t it time for indigenous communities to join the table, to move from poverty to prosperity, and to push ahead on reconciliation? Isn’t it time we learned from the mistakes of the past, not repeat them?

Cody Battershill is a Calgary realtor and founder/spokesperson for CanadaAction.ca.