Fraser Forum

First Nations leaders should stop listening to activists who unfairly target Canada’s oilsands

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Why is one alliance of indigenous communities acting to harm the economies of indigenous communities in another part of the country, and ultimately all indigenous communities?

A consortium of First Nations announced last week that they were meeting with senior executives at Desjardins Group to try to persuade the credit union to make its moratorium on new pipeline projects permanent.  

Regional Chief Ghislain Picard of the Assembly of the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador said the move on the part of the so-called Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion is part of a strategy of opposing both the Energy East and Trans Mountain pipeline projects.

The immediate problem is that many First Nation and Métis communities depend on the oilsands for their livelihoods. A study by the Fraser Institute in 2013 noted the central importance of the oil and gas sector to indigenous communities. According to the study, in 2010 more than 1,700 aboriginal people were directly employed in oilsands operations, and over a 12-year span First Nation-owned companies secured more than $5 billion worth of contracts from oilsands developers in the region. Another 2014 study confirms the benefits of oilsands development to indigenous communities.  

On the same day of the consortium’s announcement, the CBC reported that four indigenous groups in the Fort McMurray region support the construction of a proposed $20.6 billion oilsands mine north of Fort McMurray.  

The McMurray Métis signed an agreement last week with the mine proponent, Teck Resources, that promises jobs, contracts and environmentally-sensitive development. The deal comes after one year of consultation with Métis harvesters and trappers.

The mine would create 7,000 construction jobs. The mine's operations would also employ 2,500 people and produce 260,000 barrels of bitumen per day over a 40-year life span.  

These opportunities are everything to communities facing chronic unemployment and poverty. It’s easy for an indigenous leader on one side of the country to attack the livelihood of indigenous communities on the other, but it’s not very fair or helpful.

Indigenous communities should support economic development and prosperity across Canada.

This issue doesn’t only affect indigenous communities in the oilsands region. The Fraser Institute study found that more than 600 resource projects are planned for Canada, with many close to the traditional territory of indigenous communities. Such communities are involved in oil and gas projects all over the West. First Nations can take clear advantage of pipeline projects extending into the Maritimes.

Simply put, indigenous leaders should support their communities and stop listening to activists who unfairly target Canada’s oilsands.


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