The divide over pipeline expansion is as deep among Aboriginal Canadians as in other sectors of society, say the organizers of an upcoming pro-oil conference hosted by the Indian Resource Council.
The goal of the conference: to emphasize the stake that some Indigenous groups have in the oil and gas industry. “The environmental movement seems to have carried the day,” said event co-chair and resource industry consultant Blaine Favel. “They don’t want people to have a good, hard look at the fact that, today, as we speak, First Nations people own pipelines, they own all aspects of the value chain of energy development.”
Numerous Aboriginal groups have vocally rejected two major pipelines proposed to run through British Columbia and Quebec. But Ken Coates, director of the International Centre for Northern Governance and Development at the University of Saskatchewan, says others take a different view.
“There is actually a strong and consistent group of First Nations that have participated in the resource economy,” Coates told the Globe and Mail. “There are billions of dollars in Aboriginal trust funds [that] First Nations have received from resource development. There are 250 aboriginal development corporations across the country, many of which have hundreds of millions of dollars in investable assets and employ hundreds of people.”
The growth of that wealth has been sustained by land and treaty claim settlements and a growing body of jurisprudence, Coates observed. “We know now that, in order to get major resource projects and pipelines and infrastructure off the ground, there has to be Indigenous engagement of a level that is very different than before.”
With that in mind, the Indian Resource Council’s fall conference plans to bring together Indigenous leaders, industry executives, and government representatives to explore how Aboriginal people can participate further in the petroleum economy.
“When I hear environmentalists saying no to pipelines,” said Council President Stephen Buffalo, “the other side of me is saying communities here are suffering.
“My call-out to the chiefs who say no is, ‘Tell us the reason why not.’” He cited one Ontario chief who would want to know “why we can’t have a pipeline going out east, because he is building his community with that revenue.”