We are First Na­tions that sup­port pipe­lines, when pipe­lines sup­port First Na­tions

Fort McMurray Today - - COMMENT - STEPHEN BUF­FALO Stephen Buf­falo is pres­i­dent and CEO of the In­dian Re­source Coun­cil.

The re­ac­tion to the re­cent Fed­eral Court of Ap­peal de­ci­sion on the Trans Moun­tain pipeline has been near hys­ter­i­cal — and for good rea­son. The stop­page of the pipeline pro­ject, the best-stud­ied pro­ject in Cana­dian his­tory and one with sub­stan­tial In­dige­nous sup­port, has peo­ple speak­ing with de­spair about the fu­ture of the oil and gas in­dus­try in the coun­try, the now-di­min­ished prospects for fu­ture devel­op­ment, and even the fragility of Cana­dian fed­er­al­ism.

First Na­tions peo­ples who sup­port the pipeline — and there are many — agree that the sit­u­a­tion is dire, but we see more than a few rea­sons for op­ti­mism in the midst of the anx­i­ety.

The de­bate over the pipeline ex­pan­sion has forced First Na­tions, Métis and Inuit peo­ple across Canada to think very hard about where oil and gas devel­op­ment and in­fra­struc­ture projects fit into their eco­nomic and en­vi­ron­men­tal fu­tures.

An enor­mous amount of at­ten­tion has been paid to the First Na­tions on the Bri­tish Columbia coast, who op­pose the pipeline or, more ac­cu­rately, the ocean ship­ping as­so­ci­ated with get­ting those prod­ucts to world mar­kets. We rec­og­nize and hon­our their com­mit­ment and their world, even if we do not share par­tic­u­lar points of view.

We have heard, also, a great deal from en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, many of whom proudly de­clare that they are work­ing on be­half of the First Na­tions. We do not need that. They do not speak for all of us. We share the en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists’ con­cerns about the fu­ture of our planet, but won­der why they are so de­ter­mined to un­der­cut the few op­por­tu­ni­ties we have to en­joy the kind of eco­nomic pros­per­ity that non-In­dige­nous peo­ples take for granted in this coun­try.

Many In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing those rep­re­sented by the In­dian Re­source Coun­cil, have come to terms with the oil and gas in­dus­try. Our Na­tions have in­vested wisely in the sec­tor and are will­ing to in­vest even more. Cana­di­ans may be sur­prised to hear of First Na­tions want­ing to buy all or part of the Trans Moun­tain pipeline.

For us, it is a log­i­cal ex­ten­sion of the en­gage­ment we have had over 20-plus years. When pipeline op­po­nents use the courts to slow or stop pipe­lines, they un­der­mine our busi­nesses, elim­i­nate jobs in our com­mu­ni­ties and re­duce the amount of money flow­ing to our gov­ern­ments.

But there are lessons for all Cana­di­ans in the Trans Moun­tain de­ci­sion. In­dige­nous rights mean some­thing. Con­sul­ta­tion has to be real, ro­bust and mean­ing­ful. This does not mean that ev­ery In­dige­nous com­mu­nity will get ev­ery­thing they want out of ev­ery devel­op­ment pro­ject. We un­der­stand and re­spect the author­ity of the Gov­ern­ment of Canada and its man­date to ad­dress the needs of other Cana­di­ans.

But our rights are mean­ing­ful and pow­er­ful. There are no short­cuts around the duty to con­sult and ac­com­mo­date. We have the right to be heard. We have the right to be part of the so­lu­tion to the chal­lenges fac­ing Cana­dian re­source devel­op­ers. This works. Our com­mu­ni­ties are part­ners with hun­dreds of oil, gas and trans­mis­sion com­pa­nies across the coun­try. Our re­source-ac­tive com­mu­ni­ties are gain­ing au­ton­omy from gov­ern­ment and are show­ing that we will be an ac­tive and pro­gres­sive part of this coun­try’s eco­nomic fu­ture.

Please do not hold In­dige­nous peo­ples to a dou­ble stan­dard, as Cana­di­ans have of­ten done in the past. Some First Na­tions op­pose oil and gas devel­op­ment and oth­ers do not, just like other Cana­di­ans. Af­ter all, it was op­po­si­tion by the City of Mon­treal, not In­dige­nous groups, that helped kill the En­ergy East pipeline pro­ject.

So as Canada con­tem­plates the Trans Moun­tain de­ci­sion, let’s fo­cus on both the short and the long term. The Gov­ern­ment of Canada needs to re­visit its con­sul­ta­tion pro­cesses and get it right this time. The oil-andgas-pro­duc­ing Na­tions hope that the Trans Moun­tain pipeline can pro­ceed.

But let’s also use this oc­ca­sion to build the foun­da­tion for a dif­fer­ent fu­ture where In­dige­nous peo­ples are seen, from the out­set, as part­ners in a new devel­op­ment process, not a bar­rier to be hur­dled or an ir­ri­ta­tion to be brushed aside.

In­dige­nous peo­ples are sick and tired of be­ing seen as a prob­lem for Canada. We un­der­stand that Canada’s pros­per­ity can and should be good for In­dige­nous peo­ples. Cana­di­ans need to ap­pre­ci­ate that our pros­per­ity is good for Canada, too.

We have waited for gen­er­a­tions for a chance to be treated as eco­nomic part­ners. We now have the po­lit­i­cal and le­gal author­ity to en­sure at­ten­tion to our needs and in­ter­ests. The Trans Moun­tain pipeline con­tro­versy shows how im­por­tant it is that In­dige­nous peo­ples, the Gov­ern­ment of Canada and all Cana­di­ans get this right.


In­dige­nous drum­mers per­form at the rib­bon-cut­ting cer­e­mony for the Fort Hills oil­sands op­er­a­tion on Mon­day, Septem­ber 10, 2018.

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