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Editorials Natives, oil and gas, and a search for common ground

There is at least a glimmer of hope that the Canadian oil and gas industry and the First Nations will not always be in inexorable conflict.

On Monday and Tuesday, an event called the Pipeline Gridlock Conference, "a Nation to Nation Gathering on Strategy and Solutions," was held in Calgary, organized by the Indian Resource Council.

The name itself makes clear that the council mainly consists of aboriginal communities and organizations that already own significant oil and gas resources. They naturally want to be able to ship and sell their liquid goods by pipeline, much of it to the world's oceans.

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The petroleum-owning reserves are not altogether peculiar or rare. About a quarter of First Nations have ownership or other interests in energy and presumably want to benefit from them.

Nor are these indigenous Canadians who wish to profit from oil and gas – and from pipelines – just some marginal group of eccentric right-wing natives.

Stephen Buffalo, the president of the Indian Resource Council, sensibly said, "We will make sure things are done right to protect Mother Earth, but we need a revenue stream, too."

Perry Bellegarde, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, also recognizes the potential. He is very far from being a lackey of Canadian capitalist interests. At the conference he said, "We're going to work through this. Be patient, this can happen."

On the other hand, Mr. Bellegarde said, "There will be spills, but how do you mitigate that? Can you quickly stop it, so it has very little impact on land and water?"

The National Chief's overall message appeared to be that the indigenous peoples of Canada are not getting enough benefit from the country's natural resources and need to use those resources to narrow the wide gap between natives and non-natives.

Mr. Bellegarde articulated a very rough guess for the future: "You may not have four pipelines approved, but one or two with least impact on the land and water. We are tired of being poor, but development has to be done in a respectful way."

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That sums it up well. Nobody (except maybe a few saints) likes poverty, but other things matter, too.

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