Indigenous Misrepresentation: Chiefs Respond to Edmonton Climate Strike

(October 18, 2019) Today the Indian Resource Council, an organization representing over 100 oil and gas producing First Nations, met in Edmonton to discuss ways in which they can further assume control over their oil and gas resources from the Government of Canada. This happened against the backdrop of Climate Justice Edmonton’s climate strike, including a presence from climate activist Greta Thunberg.

Climate Justice Edmonton claims to fight for “Indigenous rights”. However the IRC Chiefs and leaders have long argued that Indigenous rights include economic rights, including the right to economic development, self-determination and a livelihood. 

“We care deeply about the Earth and we understand the threat posed by climate change,” stated Councillor Vincent Saddleback of Samson Cree Nation. “But as long as there is demand for oil and gas products, we would prefer if our resources are brought to market, as we know they are ethically and responsibly developed.” 

“We have used our oil and gas royalties to set up several community recreation centres and schools, including our own Maskwachees Cultural College. We fund students to become doctors and engineers. We do a lot to support our language and culture. Own-source revenues allow us to exercise our sovereignty”, asserted Saddleback.

Chief Roy Fox, leader of the Kanai Blood Tribe and Chair of the Board of the IRC, added that “our members are working hard to generate resource wealth to create opportunities and pay for services and infrastructure desperately needed by their people.”

“On our territory, we operate under the highest environmental and social standards possible. The Blood Tribe has over seven decades of experience with oil and gas exploration, production and transmission. No harm has come to the air or water, the animals or birds as a result of that development,” stated Chief Fox. 

IRC President Stephen Buffalo further outlined the economic importance of oil & gas production to IRC communities. “Indigenous-owned businesses are 40 times more likely to be involved in the mining and oil & gas sectors than the average Canadian business,” he stated. “The energy sector represents the best pathway forward for our communities to get out of poverty and take our rightful place as self-sufficient nations.”

Buffalo continued, “We are finally at the point where First Nations communities are becoming the owners of large, economically significant, projects. It’s hard to understand why so many activists, who use oil and gas products everyday, want to take this opportunity away from us.” 

Facts about First Nations engagement in Canada’s oil and gas industry:

  • The oil & gas sector employs 11,900 Indigenous workers directly (Statistics Canada 2016)
  • 25 First Nations produce oil on reserve and 35 First Nations produce natural gas (Indian Oil and Gas Canada 2018)
  • The average wage of Indigenous persons working in resource development (mining, quarrying and oil and gas) was more than double the average across all industries – $98,952 versus $44,433 (Statistics Canada 2018)
  • The federal government procured less than 1% of its purchased goods and services from Indigenous businesses in 2015 (the latest year for which data is available) representing $93.5 million (INAC 2019). Suncor alone, an oil sands company, procured $703 million in 2018 (Suncor 2019).
  • TransMountain has signed mutual benefit agreements with 43 First Nations along the proposed pipeline route, worth over $400 million (TransMountain, 2019). At least three Indigenous consortia have publicly proposed purchasing the TMX pipeline from the federal government.
  • In their survey of over 500 medium and large businesses in Canada to assess the state of corporate-Indigenous relations, Indigenous Works found that the resource industry, in particular mining and oil & gas companies in Western Canada, had the highest level of engagement of any sector (Indigenous Works, 2017).

Learn more about the IRC here: