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Energy projects offer First Nations road out of poverty

Partnering with resource developers, not protesting against them, is the way to achieve prosperity

Ravina-BainsVANCOUVER, BC, Nov 29, 2013/ Troy Media/ – The recent protests in New Brunswick against proposed hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has put a spotlight on the Elsipogtog (Elsi-book-took) First Nation, which has been extremely vocal in its opposition to proposed shale gas exploration. But however sincere these protests, they are ultimately misguided.

The protesters fail to recognize the opportunities that could be available to the Elsipogtog First Nation from shale gas exploration and extraction. The unemployment rate among the Elsipogtog First Nation is 32 per cent, that in a community of approximately 1,900 members with a median age of 25. With an unemployment rate comparable to countries such as Afghanistan and Mali, there is clearly an opportunity to bring prosperity to this young, growing and unemployed community through positive partnerships with resource development.

Yet the statistics of Elsipogtog First Nation are not unique. In fact, the data paints a similar picture for Aboriginal communities across the country located near proposed oil and gas projects. In British Columbia, for example, 28 per cent of B.C.’s First Nations communities stand to benefit from the seven major oil and gas projects currently proposed and the average unemployment rate for these communities is a staggering 33 per cent. In Alberta, where 44 per cent of First Nations can benefit from the five proposed oil and gas projects, the average unemployment rate for these communities is 27 per cent. While these First Nations represent a highly unemployed population, they also represent one of the youngest demographics in the country. The median age for First Nations communities is 26 years of age compared to 41 for non-aboriginal Canadians.

Two points are clear from these statistics; first, every proposed oil and gas project in Canada affects at least one First Nation’s community and secondly, these young and highly unemployed communities are sorely in need of jobs. Oil and gas development can provide those jobs and a way out of poverty and into prosperity.

While there are obstacles to overcome, such as education levels and specialized skills training for community members, solutions can be derived from successful partnerships between oil and gas developers and First Nations. One such example is the partnership between Haisla Nation and Chevron Apache, which is supporting a $360 million liquefied natural gas project in British Columbia. It’s estimated that project will provide more than 5,000 construction and 450 operational jobs once completed.

For many remote and rural First Nations communities, oil and gas projects may be the only proposed economic development opportunity in their area and can be a lifeline out of dependency and into prosperity. And for communities such as Elsipogtog First Nation which have a young and highly unemployed population, partnering with resource development can be a way to lower their unemployment rate to a level which is comparable to the rest of Canada. Oil and gas development provides an opportunity for remote and impoverished First Nations community members to obtain jobs and prosperity, and these remote, unemployed communities provide oil and gas developers with an untapped labour force with boundless potential – these are unique opportunities that cannot be overlooked.

It is a given that First Nations communities revere and demand protection of their environment, and do not want to see their landscapes ravaged or their ecosystems degraded. But it’s also a given that First Nations communities want to see gainful employment for their young people, and prosperity for themselves, their families, and their friends. Partnering with resource developers, not protesting against them, is the way to achieve these ends.

Ravina Bains is the associate director for the Centre for Aboriginal Policy Studies at the Fraser Institute and author of Opportunities for First Nation prosperity through oil and gas development.

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1 comments
FrankBusch
FrankBusch

Some of the points made are oversimplified and compare apples to oranges. If a proper Aboriginal Engagement Strategy had been executed, the community would have been duly consulted and any necessary accommodations would be made (including leaving the shale gas right where it is if they are not interested) . 

As for employment, I have not been able to find any proposed Aboriginal procurement, training and retention strategy to be undertaken should an opportunity arise. It is perfectly plausible that jobs could be created and none of them awarded to First Nations. 

Environmental concerns could be alleviated (or justified) by an independent environmental review process. It seems what the people of Elsipogtog are protesting is the fact that the company is barging in without consultation or permission. I certainly wouldn't want this to happen on or around my home, farm or business. If this is to be the company's attitude during exploration, I wonder what kind of aggressive tactics it will use if deposits are found? 

I think the company's conduct so far does not bode well for any future partnership to be created. Given the history of how these situations usually pan out at the Supreme Court of Canada (read "Resource Rulers" by Bill Gallagher), I think the only real beneficiaries in this situation will be the company's lawyers after the company loses in court and still get the bill.