First Nations could be top beneficiaries of energy development – by Claudia Cattaneo(National Post – November 29, 2013)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

The unprecedented level of oil and gas activity under way and planned in Western Canada has worsened the uneasy relationship between the energy sector and Canada’s First Nations.

Many aboriginals are opposed. They complain it brings change to their way of life and to the lands and waters they have known and relied upon for centuries. Their experiences with corporations and governments have been negative and trust is scarce. Projects like the Northern Gateway pipeline have provided platforms to vent anger.

Energy companies don’t get why many aboriginals don’t welcome their promises of riches. They handle relations with care, aware that leverage to persuade is small, conflict could explode and lead to costly delays. Poor and often changing aboriginal leadership, increasing demands for compensation, armies of consultants and lawyers feed the tension.

Adding to the problem is that companies that find successful practices tend to keep them under wraps, regarding them as competitive advantages, so less experienced companies make mistakes that give the whole industry a black eye.

Yet next to Canada’s energy sector itself, First Nations could be the top beneficiaries of energy development. They are in the right place at the right time.

Some First Nations have figured it out, providing a measure of what’s possible. The 700-member Fort McKay band in Alberta is the poster child for successful aboriginal involvement in oil development. Its companies spin off revenues of $100-million a year and employ 4,000 people in oil sands related services. The Haisla Nation in Kitimat has successfully embraced the liquefied natural gas opportunity, as equity owner and partner in two projects.

A Vancouver-based Fraser Institute study by Ravina Bains, Opportunities for FirstNations Prosperity Through Oil and Gas Development, released Thursday, offers a road map for more positive outcomes.

With 600 major resource projects worth an estimated $650-billion planned for Canada, First Nations could land jobs, business opportunities and increase their standard of living. They have disproportionate numbers of young people and live in scarcely populated areas where the projects are planned. They are available to work.

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