Listen up: A First Nations message for the oil patch – by Jeffrey Jones (Globe and Mail – December 5, 2013)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

CALGARY — At a business conference in the Alberta Rockies last week, some of Canada’s heaviest hitters in energy offered their renditions of essentially the same tune.

Market access was the topic, and the consensus among the premiers of Alberta and New Brunswick as well as bosses at the largest pipeline and oil companies was that we as a nation should have it.

That means oil flowing to where it will fetch its highest price, whether that means the coasts of the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico or Pacific. The result: jobs and a stronger economy across the country.

A key reason for snags, they agreed, is opponents have swayed some of the public against their well-backed-up assertions that the oil sands are being developed responsibly, and the industry is bringing all available technology to bear in cutting carbon emissions and transporting the stuff safely.

Then Miles Richardson stood up and abruptly changed the tune with the most important reminder of the day – that any road to riches in Asia for the energy sector passes through numerous First Nations territories, and major long-standing problems need to be solved first.

Mr. Richardson knows whereof he speaks. A former president of the Haida Nation on the B.C. coast and a former chief commissioner of the B.C. Treaty Commission, he talks passionately about his people’s ancient connection to the land and how the relationship between B.C. native groups and Ottawa is broken.

Many in the oil patch see native resistance to projects as a soft obstacle to overcome. It’s anything but. It’s a legal problem that could push back by years the Alberta-based industry’s bid for market access, something that has already caused much friction with aboriginals.

So, Mr. Richardson said: Listen up.

Canada has dragged its feet for decades as natives on the coast sought treaties to spell out their relationship with the rest of the country. The absence of settled claims actually gives First Nations rights and title to all aspects of traditional lands, courts have ruled.

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