How First Nations resurgence could help or hinder pipeline projects (Business Vancouver – september 8, 2015)

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There’s something significant going on in the aboriginal world, which needs to be viewed with a historical frame of reference. From demonstrations of indigenous identity …

The Canadian oilpatch was dumbstruck by incoming Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s pre-election announcement that her government would withdraw support for Enbridge’s (TSX:ENB) Northern Gateway pipeline.

“It’s not worth it,” Notley said, suggesting that she considered First Nations opposition intractable and noting the “intense” environmental sensitivities in British Columbia.

Shortly after the NDP’s orange crush started giving Calgary energy executives the blues, B.C.’s Lax Kw’alaams Band unanimously rejected the $1.1 billion offer from Petronas-led Pacific NorthWest LNG to site its liquefaction terminal on Lelu Island near Prince Rupert.

As Canada’s oil and gas export industry starts shifting from the shrinking U.S. market to the expanding Asian markets, getting aboriginal buy-in for the requisite infrastructure has proved extremely difficult. Some business people and media even regard Canada’s resource economy as a victim of hostage-taking by obstructionist, if not extortionist, demands.

Paradigm shift

There’s something significant going on in the aboriginal world, which needs to be viewed with a historical frame of reference. From demonstrations of indigenous identity (Idle No More) to landmark court decisions regarding unextinguished land title (Tsilhqot’in Nation vs. British Columbia) over thriving aboriginal businesses, First Nations are experiencing a profound transformation of their social, economic and political structures.

First Nations communities may still rank at the bottom of social and economic indexes, but a resurgence is underway that merits being called a comeback, as author John Ralston Saul describes it in his recent book, The Comeback: How Aboriginals Are Reclaiming Power and Influence.

The direction of the comeback is clear. Past legislation like the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and, post-Confederation, the Indian Act of 1876 greatly lessened the economic and political autonomy of aboriginal societies.

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