Roy Fox, Makiinima, is Chief of the Kainai Blood Tribe in Southern Alberta, the largest reserve in Canada. He is chair of the Indian Resource Council.
I have a vested interest in the ability of oil and gas producing First Nations to get their resources to market. I know that many Canadians believe all First Nations are opposed to oil and gas development, and that many Indigenous people have strong feelings against pipelines.
However, the Blood Tribe has more than seven decades of experience with oil and gas exploration, production and transmission, and we have never had a spill. No harm has come to the air or water, the animals or birds as a result of our development. We understand the causes of climate change and have invested in wind power as part of the transition to renewable sources of energy. But so long as there is demand for oil and gas, we want the opportunity to develop our resources at fair prices in order to generate own-source revenues and improve the quality of life for our members. And that requires pipelines.
For those reasons, I have become vocal in my opposition to Bill C-48, the oil-tanker moratorium in northwest B.C.; and Bill C-69, the overhaul of Canada’s regulatory review processes. So it is with some hope and relief that I have learned the Senate committees studying these bills have voted sensibly in the past month: In the case of Bill C-48 to dismiss it, and in the case of Bill C-69 to recommend significant amendments that would make new energy projects possible again.
I believe the respective Senate committees have come to their conclusions because they have taken the time to leave Ottawa and hear from the communities most affected by this legislation. Good consultation has led to good policy recommendations. And this has exposed how such poor legislation was introduced in the first place.
Respecting Indigenous rights, which includes the government’s duty to consult, has been described as an important part of Bill C-69. Consultation is not about persuading First Nations to do your will, but to learn from our perspectives and accommodate our concerns. It is my perspective that, when drafting Bills C-48 and C-69, the Liberals chose to listen only to those Indigenous peoples who shared their ideology.
This perspective was demonstrated most clearly by Minister of Transport Marc Garneau when he testified to the Senate committee in March on his own bill, C-48. He described the Indian Resource Council (IRC), which represents more than 130 oil- and gas-producing First Nations, as “private, commercial interests” and “not in the same category” as the coastal First Nations who oppose oil-tanker traffic.
This statement was false – the IRC represents communities across British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and elsewhere, and our stakeholders are chiefs and councillors, the rightful representatives of those First Nations.
But the real problem with that kind of thinking is that it diminishes Indigenous people who are involved in business, who are trying to promote economic development and who are trying to address the reduction of poverty.
I have been told by the Prime Minister that Bill C-69 would not affect the Kanai Blood Tribe, yet it already has, by decreasing investment in our territory and returns on our resources. At his request, I wrote a letter to Justin Trudeau in December, 2018, asking to discuss my concerns about Bill C-69. However, I have never received a response. Nor have I received responses to similar letters I have written to ministers Catherine McKenna and Carolyn Bennett. This is perplexing given that the current federal government talks about reconciliation, yet they ignore the simplest of dialogue on economic development – something that is so important to the future of our people.
Indeed, the Senate committee hearings have been the only place where oil- and gas-producing First Nations have really had an opportunity to have their voices heard on these bills. Listening to those voices has resulted in recommendations that I believe are much more judicious and fair.
We will not allow the federal government to decide who are “good” First Nations – who fit the stereotype of the noble, conservationist Native – and those who are undeserving of the government’s consideration because they are determined to exercise their self-determination by developing their resources for their people’s benefit.
As I write, the Senate as a whole is deliberating on these bills, and it is not at all clear that it will support the findings of its own committees. I am encouraged that the group of Senators who studied C-69 and C-48 have done their due diligence and consulted with all Indigenous stakeholders, not just those that agree with particular campaign platforms. I hope the Senate and the House of Commons pay attention to the feedback they got from witnesses such as myself. The principles of consultation and earning social license from Indigenous communities are not only for the resource industry to follow but government itself.
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