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Opinion Alberta First Nations ‘unanimously’ support Bill C-69? Hardly

Roy Fox (Maikiinima) is Chief of the Kainaiwa (Blood Tribe). He is a pioneer in First Nations self-management of their resources, and a former CEO of the Indian Resource Council.

I have spent more than 45 years advocating for my people, working to battle on-reserve poverty and focusing on generating resource revenues to provide the employment and education that my community has every right to obtain. I have been deeply involved in the process that allowed communities like mine to begin to take over the management and control of our oil and gas resources from Ottawa. I care greatly about the future of my people and their ability to access natural-resource revenues. I believe that the Canadian energy discussion could use some hard messages right about now.

So a false impression exists – that Alberta First Nations unanimously support Bill C-69, which the federal government says will change how pipeline projects are assessed, regulated and consulted upon. While I can’t explain where the communication broke down, I and the majority of Treaty 7 chiefs strongly oppose the bill for its likely devastating impact on our ability to support our community members, as it would make it virtually impossible for my nation to fully benefit from the development of our energy resources.

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We are on record as very strongly opposing Bill C-69 in its current form. And we are greatly concerned that it spells reductions in earnings, profits and royalties from our lands.

While the Kainaiwa continue to fight against high unemployment, as well as the social destructiveness and health challenges such as addiction and other issues that often accompany poverty, my band’s royalties have recently been cut by more than half. Furthermore, all drilling has been cancelled because of high price differentials – the enormous gap between what we get on a barrel of oil in comparison to the benchmark price – which has limited employment opportunities on our lands. And while production on our lands recently doubled, royalties have been cut.

Sadly, that wasn’t the end of the story: Due to a lack of Canadian pipeline capacity and a landlocked distribution network, the differential now approaches 50 per cent, and we expect a significant royalty reduction is in our future. We estimate the differential-related cut will cost every family in my band $1,400 a year – an enormous hit for a community dealing with poverty.

Add in the catastrophic differential to the damage C-69 could cause, along with the punitive Bill C-48 that allows virtually anything but Alberta energy products to be shipped from the West Coast, and you can see why we feel a curtailment in future drilling programs is likely the next shoe to drop.

Now consider that there are 26 oil-producing First Nations in Western Canada. An estimate, provided by Indian Oil and Gas Canada and verified by Indian Resource Canada, shows continued operation at the current differential will cost the families of producing nations several thousands of dollars a year. In that context, it’d be an understatement to say the policies proposed within Bills C-69 and C-48 are damaging our position by restricting access and reducing our ability to survive as a community.

I’m no proponent of roughshod, indiscriminate development that damages our collective environment, health and safety. But given all the consultation that’s mandated at the start-up of a project, why is it that when new federal policy is introduced that restricts a band’s access to resource development, it requires no consultation whatsoever? Restricting my community’s livelihood should warrant some level of discussion with us.

And in fact, this bill, rolling through Parliament without that consultation, lacks any screening for interveners, so everyone would have the right to intervene in a process about developments in our territory, no matter where they reside. This means that the new bill threatens to undermine our legacy as stewards of our territory for thousands of years.

Our federal policymakers should consider that, in some 70 years of experience in the oil and gas sector, my tribe has never seen any significant level of environmental failure, nor damage to the land, water, air, animals or people. Yet the clamour to line up “unanimous” First Nations support for these excessive measures has gone so far as to encourage non-Indigenous people to speak for Indigenous ones.

Until the federal government responds to our concerns in a meaningful way on these flawed proposals, the Kainaiwa/Blood Tribe, a member of the Blackfoot Confederacy, is opposed to these proposals. And for others, it should be considered as a cautionary tale.

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