Amid the mounting coverage of US activist foundations that provide financial support for anti-pipeline environmental groups in Canada, we should not lose sight of an important fact: the actions of these deep-pocketed American influencers negatively impacts many First Nations in Canada.
To their credit, and with the help of some good, balanced Canadian reporting, more First Nations voices are breaking through the media clutter on the topic of energy and pipelines.
Consider Rene Houle of Whitefish Lake First Nation, who was among a group of hundreds who rallied this month in Lac La Biche, Alberta in favour of oil and gas – and the pipelines that transport it.
According to reports, Houle explained to attendees the energy industry generates spinoff businesses that employ hundreds of people in his community. Those wages are then spent at car dealerships, movie theatres and other businesses in neighbouring towns.
For Houle, the oil and gas sector helps keep people from becoming burdens to social-welfare and the justice system. Other First Nations members explained they wanted the rest of Canada to know Indigenous people in Alberta support the oil and gas industry and the pipelines that carry its product.
Lee Thom, a councillor from Kikino Metis Settlement, told the crowd gathered at the local rec centre that, “it doesn’t matter if you’re a business owner or a worker or an aboriginal community. We’re all in this together.”
Let’s face it. None of this is new information. So why, then, does it matter?
In the face of the US onslaught of anti-pipeline donations to Canadian activists uncovered by Vivian Krause, my organization, Canada Action, thinks the deck is stacked against Canadian energy and the First nations that rely upon it. So we’re determined to support the First Nations pro-enterprise messages.
We face a daunting challenge of combatting not just the US foundations bent on ensuring our oil and gas remain land-locked within our borders, but also their hangers-on.
Leo DiCaprio only days ago challenged his 19-million Twitter followers to sign an anti-pipeline petition and “stand in solidarity” with blockaders at Northern BC’s Unist’ot’en camp, bizarrely described in a recent New York Times opinion editorial as “an important part of a broader movement of Indigenous resistance to Canada’s fossil fuel ambitions.”
But DiCaprio knows well that many First Nations are in favour of the Coastal GasLink project. He even attached to his tweet the New York Times piece that correctly stated: “Coastal GasLink has signed agreements on the project with all 20 of the elected councils representing First Nations people along the route.”
DiCaprio should know more than 32,000 members of Canada’s First Nations communities work in Canada’s energy, mining and forestry sectors. That makes the natural resource sector a leading private sector employer of Indigenous people.
That helps explain recent statements of Chief Roy Fox (Maikiinima), Chief of the Kainaiwa (Blood Tribe) commenting on Bill C-69, a federal proposal that would do enormous harm to Canada’s ability to approve, build and commission a future pipeline.
Chief Fox, late last year in a nationally published editorial, pointed out that “a false impression exists – that Alberta First Nations unanimously support Bill C-69, which the federal government says will change how pipeline projects are assessed, regulated and consulted upon.” Bill C-69 has been identified by hundreds of energy groups, communities and First Nations across the country as an obstacle to investment and development.
“I and the majority of Treaty 7 chiefs strongly oppose the bill for its likely devastating impact on our ability to support our community members, as it would make it virtually impossible for my nation to fully benefit from the development of our energy resources,” Fox wrote.
Outspoken Sto:lo Tribal Council advisor Ernie Crey hit a similar theme recently on his social media feed. “Our brothers and sisters (are speaking out) in Alberta – they want the dignity of work, not hand-outs from Ottawa.”
Canada Action has partnered with the Region One Aboriginal Business Association (ROABA) to organize the rally and to support the majority of First Nations in their bid to support the energy economy.
So as the majority of Canadians in support of the energy economy continue to make their voices heard, I’m asking you to ignore DiCaprio’s ill-informed comments, and to resist the misguided slogans of groups bought and paid for by rich US foundations opposed to Canadian energy.
Instead, consider the views of our First Nations who must count on development to help lift their communities out of chronic poverty and to secure a stable future for their youth.
Most important, I urge you to join the discussion.
Cody Battershill is a Calgary realtor and founder / spokesperson for CanadaAction.ca, a volunteer organization that supports Canadian energy development and the environmental, social and economic benefits that come with it. www.CanadaAction.ca