THE FROG LAKE DILEMMA
Think all First Nations oppose resource development? Not even close
>>> Joe Dion has a vision for energy development in Canada, and it includes First Nations. He is promoting the First Nations National Energy Strategy, which has been signed by nine oil and gas producing First Nations and promotes environmentally responsible energy development. It also calls for equity stakes in major projects for First Nations.
ALBERTA VENTURE: What support do you see for the First Nations National Energy Strategy? JOE DION: It has wide support among First Nations, even though some won’t say they support it. It has good support from the oil industry folks. They may not want to give up equity but the fact is that if they don’t give up equity, they don’t get any projects. The premier read it. I had a chance to talk with her during the Calgary Stampede. She didn’t say she would support it but I think she knows that without a broad consensus of First Nations support for something like this, these pipeline projects – any mega-projects in Canada – are in jeopardy of stalling. And I think Ottawa would accept it if we had enough consensus among First Nations that this is the way to go.
AV: How much consensus would be enough? JD: There will always be the diehards who, by virtue of their strong belief in the environment, are opposed. But we’re all on that page, all Canadians, that the environment should be protected. At the same time, we have resources that need to be exploited, whether it’s gold, coal, nickel or oil. It needs to be moved. When I say “consensus,” that might be 60, 70 or 80 per cent, but I don’t think any single First Nation can hold up a project and risk the other First Nations or, for that matter, our province and country. AV: Why the focus on equity positions? JD: I’ve been on this track for equity in lieu of land claims, money, revenue sharing, even cash payments. Cash payments can happen one time, but then be used up quickly. When it’s gone, then what? This is a sustainable way of building communities and our country. And the pride of ownership is huge. If we can achieve this on pipelines, it becomes a template for other projects across the country, for hydro, for mining, for forestry, you name it.
AV: What if the project is a pipeline crossing unceded territory in B.C.? JD: I think there’s a way to get around it. That’s why I’ve said, “You give First Nations the benefit from these projects, the long-term benefits, and I don’t see them opposing them.”
AV: But 50 First Nations leaders recently signed a “treaty” opposing oil sands and pipeline development. What of them? JD: They have a position, and you respect that. We need to get a compromise with them and with First Nations like us who want to export oil, because if we export oil and get a better price for it, our profit margin improves and we can build more houses and more roads in our communities. If there’s ownership by First Nations along the pipeline route, if there’s revenue sharing at the wellhead, that’s what’s required. We need a fair revenue sharing arrangement with First Nations across the board.
AV: What is your ultimate goal? JD: We want to lift the First Nations out of poverty, and you achieve that by getting money into their hands to be able to afford their health care, housing, education. That’s what’s required. The $8.4 billion [over five years] that the federal government has proposed for First Nations is a drop in the bucket. –