Having worked for more than a decade with First Nations and Indigenous groups on consultation over large infrastructure projects, I’ve seen myself as a bridge between resource companies and Indigenous communities.
That’s a result of my own Cree Métis heritage. Stretching back to a time before Canada was born, we Métis have often been looked on as intermediaries between First Nations and European cultures.
It’s the kind of thinking that’s valuable in bringing First Nations and Indigenous peoples, governments and companies together through Project Reconciliation, the effort led by First Nations and Indigenous peoples of BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan to purchase a majority stake in the Trans Mountain Pipeline from the federal government.
Canada’s history of consultation has left much room for improvement. In fact, during a multi-year break from my own corporate career where I worked on building consensus around resource development, I promised myself I’d come back only if there was a change in what Indigenous participation over resource development looked like.
With Project Reconciliation, I’m proud to be part of that change.
In creating genuine economic partnerships with Indigenous people, Project Reconciliation makes Indigenous participation real. No longer are we engaged in purely theoretical discussions about future economic development. Instead, ownership means discussing concrete, durable outcomes in the here-and-now.
For many Indigenous peoples, there’s a growing awareness that Canada’s regulatory environment prioritizes meaningful consultation, and that reconciliation with Indigenous peoples is a high priority within the federal government.
Equally important, there’s a new willingness among First Nations and Indigenous communities for partnerships in economic development.
And because partnerships are becoming central to the reconciliation discussion, there’s also a growing understanding of what true partnership really means. It’s about sharing risks as well as rewards — and sharing rights, responsibility and accountability.
Let me illustrate how a true partnership might work within the context of the iconic relationship between First Nations and Indigenous communities and salmon.
Canadians understand many First Nation’s history with salmon goes back thousands of years. Salmon are not simply ceremonial; in an era of such food insecurity that a simple tray of chicken might cost $100 in a remote community, fishing for local salmon is all the more vital to many First Nations.
During a recent road tour, we found one small First Nation of 300 people had calculated that, at typical market prices, it would take $4.5 million to satisfy the village’s annual needs for salmon. So it’s imperative that we protect our salmon spawning areas. It’s also important to state that, while large project purchases like Trans Mountain are normally funded by debt, shipping agreements will finance this project purchase instead, meaning there’s no cost to First Nations nor taxpayers.
So what’s the catch?
For First Nations and Indigenous communities that choose to participate, the only catch is they must agree to keep their eye squarely on environmental stewardship. As part of the partnership, it will be their responsibility to remain vigilant over land and water — like an army of eyes over their traditional territories.
From my perspective, the Project Reconciliation model is what many other partnerships might look like in future, as we set an example for how reconciliation might look at a national level.
This isn’t just a pipeline project. This is a hand up, empowering Indigenous people to live in a self-determined world, and providing an opportunity to rewrite what it means to be Indigenous in Canada.
For me as a Cree Métis, Project Reconciliation is an opportunity to show our unique culture, including our long-standing role as intermediaries among other cultures.
Throughout Canadian history, there’s been an enormous gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. I look forward to helping bridge that gap.
Gregory John is Vice President of Indigenous Relations at Project Reconciliation. He is Cree Métis and a member of the Métis Nation of Alberta. He has worked in Indigenous and stakeholder relations for more than a decade.