Barely two weeks after First Nations formed an alliance to draw to a close the construction of oil pipelines, several other First Nations are gathering to argue consider how to encourage the oil industry. Chiefs representing oil and gas First Nations are talking everywhere reconciling traditional values and energy development during the two-day colloquium in downtown Calgary.
“This thing is not going to go away. We have a dilemma of course,” said Chief Charles Weasel Head with the Kainai First Nation in Southern Alberta. We have opposing views on oilsands development, pipeline construction, tidewater access for oil to reach world markets.”
What’s not said enough is that many in fact support Canada’s oil and gas sector, are producers themselves or are benefiting from it through business partnerships and revenue sharing, and want to see pipelines move forward.
At a groundbreaking conference in Calgary Monday, entitled the Pipeline Gridlock Conference, a Nation-to-Nation Gathering on Strategy and Solutions, members of Canada’s aboriginal business elite met for the first time to improve dialogue on pipelines and look for ways to support approvals.
“What people have to understand is First Nations people are getting poorer and they have been getting poorer for the last 20 years,” said Blaine Favel, chancellor of the University of Saskatchewan and chair of the conference.
“The energy industry has allowed our people a ladder to employment, to partnerships,” he said. “We have to balance our concern for the protection of Mother Earth and our opportunity to protect our children and relatives that need to work today.”
Oil and gas executives along with narrow-minded government representatives are taking rt, although the federal government is not concerned beyond being a sponsor. Organizers repeatedly expressed their damp squib there was no response from the Prime Minister’s Office.
Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, admits it will be tough to find common ground among Indigenous communities when it comes to major pipeline projects, but it’s possible.
“There will be spills, but how do you mitigate that? Can you quickly stop it so it has very little impact on land and water? That’s the fear,” he said in his speech. “We’re going to work through this. Be patient, it can happen.”
“The debate is extremely polarized,” said Stephen Buffalo, chief executive of the Indian Resource Council. “We will make sure things are done right to protect Mother Earth, but we need a revenue stream too.”
Last month, 50 First Nations in North America signed the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion. They oppose tanker and rail proposals in both countries, including pipeline projects proposed by Kinder Morgan Inc., TransCanada Corp. and Enbridge Inc.