- Indigenous people have been unfairly characterized as opposed to development.
- Direct revenue sharing with First Nations provides a path forward for legitimizing future projects.
- The oil sands specifically provide tangible economic opportunities for Indigenous people to prosper.
The future of resource development in Canada is bright and has the potential to positively impact the lives of First Nations who partake in it- especially when it comes to the oil sands. This was the consensus found among the keynote panel which kicked off The Oil Sands Conference & Trade Show, put on by EventWorx, on September 16th in Fort McMurray.
It was big task to follow a keynote speech by the Premier of Alberta, Jason Kenney. The room was filled with media as Premier Kenney spoke extensively about why his government was launching a legal challenge to the federal government’s controversial Bill C-69 (which overhauls how resource development projects are reviewed at the federal level) and outlined his criticism against the recently published open letter by Amnesty International (about the Alberta government’s plan to aggressively challenge unfair criticism of the Canadian energy industry). However, the panel being comprised of some of Canada’s top Indigenous leaders, was able to keep the over two hundred attendees engaged as they did not shy away from discussing controversial subjects.
The panel featured:
- Stephen Buffalo – President and CEO of the Indian Resource Council,
- Chief Vern Janvier of the Chipewyan Prairie First Nation, and
- Deanna Burgart – President of Indigenous Engineering Inclusion Inc.
It was moderated by Chad Ford, President of Sunexo Solutions, a Calgary based software company which provides a cloud-based solution for companies to manager their engagement with stakeholders impacted by their projects.
Ford started the panel off with a question framed in the thought-provoking manner of if Canadians use democracy as a mandate for policy decisions and democracy is based on the idea of majority rule, how can a project like Northern Gateway- which had over 70% of First Nation communities along the right-of-way supporting it, be deemed by the federal government to not have the support of First Nations. Mr. Buffalo replied that the federal government was mistaken because the media had focused disproportionately on Indigenous people who opposed the project. He believed this was caused by foreign money provided to environmental groups exaggerating the support for these views. In the future he hoped this tactic would be less effective and coverage more balanced.
Ford also asked the panel, if like Northern Gateway, future major projects would require Indigenous ownership. Chief Janvier, the five-year tribal chief of one of the First Nations most impacted by oil sands development, asserted that it did not necessarily. Rather he advocated for direct revenue sharing with First Nations. He convincingly argued that the Indian Act creates excessive regulation and duplication by having taxes collected by one level of government only to be then redistributed to First Nation governments through a cumbersome bureaucracy. Rather, he contended that efficient government required First Nations to collect their own taxes- like municipalities do. He reasoned that direct collection of royalties derived from resource development impacting their communities would make First Nations more self-sufficient and simultaneously create legitimacy for future projects. The $1-billion Indigenous Opportunities Corporation created by the Alberta government he saw as a positive step towards this goal.
The panel wrapped up with Ford, whose software has been used by over 500 projects across North America and specifically on multiple oil sands projects, asking why the panelists were proud to be connected to the oil sands industry. Ms. Burgart talked about how she appreciated the opportunity to work in an industry which prioritized finding environmental solutions to the challenges created from resource extraction. Perhaps the most poignant point was made by Chief Janvier who spoke about being homeless 22 years ago but being fortunate to live by an industry which provided him the economic means to turn his life around and help raise over twelve children, some his some not, in his house.
Being used by hundreds of energy, resource development and infrastructure projects for the past eight years, Sunexo Solutions’ IRIS software is the best solution to minimizing project stakeholder risk through effectively managing activities, concerns and commitments. Click here to learn more.