Environmental and economic development choices split Canada’s First Nations

Environmental and economic development choices split Canada’s First Nations

CALGARY — A Vancouver-area First Nation’s decision to support the Woodfibre LNG project may have come as a surprise to some, considering the nation’s role in helping to derail the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion earlier this year.

The Squamish Nation community was one of a handful of First Nations that lined up to convince the Federal Court of Appeal in August to overturn National Energy Board approval of the controversial oil pipeline expansion from Edmonton to the West Coast, leaving its future in doubt.

But the nation’s acceptance of the liquefied natural gas export project last month reinforces a simple truth, says historian Ken Coates: While Canada’s first people may approach tough questions differently than non-native Canadians, their decisions are motivated by many of the same factors.

“These are complex issues and you’re always going to have people on both sides,” said the Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s senior fellow in Aboriginal and northern Canadian issues and the author of several books and publications on Indigenous relations.

“These are communities that need real sustainable, substantial economic benefit, where Indigenous people have been locked out of the market economy for 150 years, since Confederation. They’ve been wanting in for a long period of time.”

Woodfibre LNG gained trust through five years of consultations and by agreeing to abide by conditions under the nation’s environmental and cultural assessment process (which operates separately from federal and provincial regimes), said Khelsilem, a spokesman for the Squamish Nation council, and one of its councillors who voted against the proposal in a close 8-6 vote.

In return for its support, the community is to receive annual and milestone payments totalling $226 million over the 40-year life of the project, and its companies will be in line to bid on up to $872 million in contracts.

Hundreds of jobs are expected to result for the nation’s 4,000 members, nearly half of whom live off reserve in the Greater Vancouver area.

Khelsilem, who uses one name, said the product involved in each project — Woodfibre LNG’s relatively benign natural gas versus the “extreme risk” of diluted bitumen from the oilsands in the Trans Mountain pipeline — was just one of several factors in the decision to back one and fight the other.

“I think that if governments want to work with First Nations to create economic development, there’s ways to do it. And our nation like many other First Nations are saying, ‘We want to do it, we want to do responsible economic development and there are ways for the government to work with us on that,’” he said.

But, he added: “Our future isn’t in the resource extraction industries like a lot of other First Nations.”

The court-enforced duty of the federal government to consult, and where appropriate, accommodate Indigenous wishes when it considers projects that might adversely impact potential or established Aboriginal or treaty rights, makes their support key to both industry and environmentalists.

In November, the Montreal Economic Institute released a study called “The First Entrepreneurs – Natural Resource Development and First Nations,” that disputes the ”widely held belief” that First Nations systematically oppose projects.

It shows that Indigenous people working in oil and gas extraction make average wages of almost $150,000 per year, while those working on gas pipelines made more than $200,000. According to a 2016 Statistics Canada census the average wage of Indigenous workers nationwide was less than $50,000.

A few weeks later, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers released a report called “Toward a Shared Future: Canada’s Indigenous Peoples and the Oil and Gas Industry,” that shows six per cent of the workers in oil and gas identify themselves as Indigenous, a total of about 11,900 people making generally better-than-average wages.

It also points out that Indigenous governments received $55 million in payments related to oil and gas activity outside of the oilsands in the second half of 2017 and that oilsands companies had spent $3.3 billion on procurement from Indigenous-owned companies in 2015 and 2016.

The message of financial gain from co-operation with industry — dubbed “economic reconciliation” — resonates with Clayton Blood, general manager of Kainai Resources Inc., a company established by the Blood Tribe of southern Alberta to pursue economic development including oil and gas exploration.

“We’re finding that Indigenous peoples seem to be becoming a convenient excuse for turning down some of these controversial projects when a majority of First Nations along the (Trans Mountain) pipeline route were looking for opportunities,” he said.

Environmentalists have used “scare tactics” to try to boost opposition to development on his reserve, too, Blood says, including blaming hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” of wells for methane in water wells, a problem he says existed long before fracking began.

But Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and an ardent environmentalist, makes it clear he thinks fracking is a problem.

He says supporting Woodfibre LNG means the Squamish Nation have chosen to prosper while damage is done to the environment of Indigenous people in northeastern B.C. where the gas is produced.

“It’s not about money,” he insists.

“It’s about the land, it’s about the environment, it’s about our culture, our traditions, our livelihood, our subsistence.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

AstraZeneca vaccine is ready to be used at a homeless shelter in Romford, east London, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Frank Augstein
AstraZeneca-linked blood clot confirmed in Alberta

A case of an AstraZeneca-linked blood clot has been confirmed in Alberta,… Continue reading

The Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools Board of Trustees selected the name St. Lorenzo Ruiz Middle School to be built in the north end of Red Deer. (Photo Courtesy of  Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools)
Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raises about $8,720 for Terry Fox Foundation

Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raised about $8,720 for the Terry Fox… Continue reading

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. Health Canada has reversed course on home test kits for COVID-19, saying it will now review applications for such devices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Alberta declines Ontario’s request to send health-care workers

Alberta is “not in a position” to send health-care workers out of… Continue reading

The Red Deer Rebels allowed four straight goals from the Medicine Hat Tigers Friday night on the road. (Photo by Rob Wallator/ Red Deer Rebels)
Tigers hand Red Deer Rebels 10th straight loss

Tigers 4 Rebels 2 Through 17 games in the shortened WHL season,… Continue reading

Meghan Huizing has been selected by Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools as a finalist for the Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA) 2021 Edwin Parr Award. (Photo courtesy of Red Deer Regional Catholic Schools)
Red Deer Catholic names finalist for Edwin Parr Award

Meghan Huizing from St. Gregory the Great Catholic School in Blackfalds has… Continue reading

Red Deer Public Schools will not pilot the new draft curriculum at its elementary schools. (File photo contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)
UPDATED: Red Deer Public Schools says no to piloting new curriculum

Alberta Teachers’ Association support school boards

Brad Dahr, 53, is facing numerous charges. (Photo contributed by Alberta RCMP)
Alberta man charged for alleged sexual offences against children

An Edmonton man has been charged for alleged sexual offences against children… Continue reading

A person walks past a COVID-19 mural designed by artist Emily May Rose on a rainy day during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Monday, April 12, 2021. Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off the job or coming into work while knowingly sick could warrant discipline in the workplace. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Risky pandemic behaviour off the clock could mean workplace discipline: lawyers

CALGARY — Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off… Continue reading

Vials containing Russia's Sputnik V vaccine for COVID-19 are seen at the San Marino State Hospital, in San Marino, Friday, April 9, 2021.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Antonio Calanni
China, Russia using their COVID-19 vaccines to gain political influence

OTTAWA — China and Russia have been using their locally produced COVID-19… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa Tuesday, March 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau announces donation to Duke of Edinburgh’s award ahead of funeral

Canada will donate $200,000 to the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award as… Continue reading

Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry (Science) Will Amos responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. The Liberal MP who inadvertently flashed his parliamentary colleagues says the fact that a screenshot of him in the nude was leaked to the media sends a troubling message about the corrosive state of politics in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
Canada’s naked MP speaks out: leaked photo sends message ‘anything goes’ in politics

OTTAWA — The Liberal MP who inadvertently flashed his parliamentary colleagues says… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday night’s $10 million Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — No winning ticket was sold for the $10 million jackpot… Continue reading

Opinion
Opinion: Canada’s self-esteem needs Trump

Well, it was fun while it lasted. For four years, with Donald… Continue reading

Harley Hay
Harley Hay: Shenanigans on the links

It must be something about my Scottish heritage but I seem to… Continue reading

Most Read