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Business and Reconciliation (92)

Indigenous leaders applaud Oil and Gas Industry collaboration at IRC Reconcili-Action Conference

January 17, 2024

NationTalk: BOE Report – As a polar vortex began its descent into BC & Western Canada late last week bringing record low temperatures, the Indian Resource Council (IRC) was trying to warm things up on Bay Street in Toronto with a conference proposing major project collaboration and investment for true reconciliation and action with Indigenous peoples.

The True Reconcili-ACTION Conference featured discussions on such topics as First Nations participation in major capital projects and the power of investing and commitments to indigenous economic prosperity. The term “Reconcili-Action” was first coined by Chief Dr. Wilton Littlechild during his tenure as commissioner with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and was a key theme in all the presentations. The discussion sessions included collaboration opportunities in the upstream oil and gas sector and carbon capture (CCUS), discussions of what’s next on the path to reconciliation and the successes of the Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corporation (AIOC) were top of mind as plans for an Ontario indigenous opportunities corporation are in the works. The conference wrapped up with a keynote address by Jason Kenney, former premier of Alberta and now senior advisor with Bennett Jones.

Indigenous speakers from across Canada were featured including Chief Greg Desjarlais, Indian Resource Council Chair from the Frog Lake First Nation, Sheldon Wuttunee, President and CEO of the Saskatchewan First Nation’s Natural Resource Center of Excellence, Chief Tony Alexis of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, Chief Raymond Powder of the Fort McKay First Nation, Delbert Wapass, Chief of the Thunderchild First Nation, Dale Swampy, President of the National Coalition of Chiefs and Stephen Buffalo, President & Chief Executive Officer of the Indian Resource Council of Canada.

It is interesting to note that IRC was founded  in 1987 by Chiefs representing the oil and gas-producing First Nations as recommended by a task force studying the role of the Crown in the management of First Nations oil and natural gas resources. At the same time, Indian Oil and Gas Canada (IOGC) was established and now operates pursuant to the Indian Oil and Gas Act and the Indian Oil and Gas Regulations- 1995, and also pursuant to provisions of other federal legislation such as the Indian Act.

In his opening remarks to attendees, IRC president Stephen Buffalo described how the IRC’s advocacy helped demystify the oil and gas industry for First Nations peoples and fostered wealth creation, entrepreneurship and business opportunities but he didn’t shy away from a call to action.

“I’ve recently been quoted in an article talking about the Indian Act being ‘soft communism’,” Buffalo said. “because that’s what it is – with bureaucrats telling people how to manage poverty. It’s really hard on our leaders. With all the social pathologies that plague our people, it’s getting more and more difficult for our leaders to really focus on managing growth and wealth generation as opposed to managing poverty.”

He invited attendees who were Indigenous leaders from across the country along with government representatives, private sector investors, and leaders from multiple energy sectors to consider the challenges to reconciliation.

“Our organization has come across certain hurdles and issues, including most recently – the environmentalists. They don’t speak for our people. We agree with them in some capacity to protect Mother Earth, and we are true stewards of the land. We’re doing our best to reclaim our lands. Reclamation is a big focus and we’re making headway”29dk2902l

Stephen Buffalo addressed the challenge Indigenous peoples face dealing with reclamation while working with the Federal regulator – Indian Oil and Gas Canada, saying:

“At the end of the day, our people know what the land was like and how we benefited from the land. Now we’ve got to deal with aged infrastructure and aged assets that really have no owner. The hard part is… we have a Federal regulator – Indian Oil and Gas Canada – and unfortunately, they dropped the ball on abandonments with some of these companies along the way.”

In addition, he pointed out that many First Nations are heavily invested in the oil and gas sector. They are aware that the federal government is pressing harder on the industry, not only with the recently announced emissions cap, but also with the carbon tax. He says these policies “whittle away at our treaty rights as indigenous peoples. It’s really about consultation. Policies are being pushed on us without consultation.”

Buffalo asserted the need for more pipelines- more takeaway capacity to get to world markets as well as the need to have more confidence in and support of new Canadian technology and advancements. He also recognized how the industry has come to collaborate well with First Nations saying “What industry has realized is that we’re far better working together as partners than we are working against each other in courtrooms, knowing that down the road we will go a lot further hand in hand than fighting eachother.”

He also pointed out that the importance of consultations with First Nations will only become more urgent saying “A lot of communities want to get away from dependency on the Federal government and the Indian Act. We have to make some changes going forward. We’re very adamant that we’re protecting the environment. But you can’t see wealth generation continue without us. It’s up to the leaders and the nations and their communities to decide and that’s what we are looking for. At least to have the opportunity to say yes or no. What we’ve done in the West is a precedent that has been set for the rest of Canada.“

The IRC is planning to continue their push for reconcili-action with a similar summer conference in Ottawa in June which promises to foster more expansive collaborations.

Maureen McCall is an energy professional who writes on issues affecting the energy industry.