With Canada’s Resource Abundance, We Shouldn’t Have to Struggle

Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Canadians can all benefit from a resource focused recovery

 

Indigenous woman working in oil sands industry with heavy equipment

Estella Petersen, Indigenous Heavy Equipment Operator in the Canadian Oil Sands

This time of the year has me thinking about family. Family takes on a different meaning for different people; for example, there’s full blood relations, half blood, friends, or people with similar interests. There’s also the “family” we share among those who identify as Canadians. With holidays coming up, most people look forward to spending time with family as they celebrate with and take care of each other. The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t changed that; if anything, it has made working together more important rather than against one another.

Years ago, living in poverty as an Indigenous person in Canada, the holidays were not celebrated in the same way they are now. Large meals consisted of mostly shared foods with other families for economic reasons. Traditionally, wildlife was the main course such as deer, moose, bear, rabbit, prairie chickens, ducks and fish. Buying meat from the store was simply too expensive. In some Indigenous communities it can be hard to earn a livelihood and holidays are often a stressful time of year, with some lost in alcohol or depression.

Natural Resource Development Brings Good to Indigenous Communities

We aren’t all born into wealth. Canadians come from all walks of life, with some of us being much more (or less) fortunate than others. I’d like to think we all want one another to be able to provide for our families, Indigenous or non-Indigenous. Living without the means to provide basic necessities puts you into a different frame of mind. I’d say it’s fear of lacking – lack of shelter, food, money, self-worth – which shows itself in many forms including violence, abuse, addictions and self-harm. The prosperity and opportunities afforded by employment reduces stress on many Indigenous families and also the greater community as a result.

This makes me grateful for what I have today. I live and work in a community that is surrounded by the energy sector. Indigenous people in this area have become mainstream in the workforce of the large energy companies. I see pride from the Indigenous people who can provide for their families.


Indigenous woman working in the oil sands industry in Canada

“I live and work in a community that is surrounded by the energy sector. I see pride from the Indigenous people who can provide for their families.

There is no shame as an Indigenous person to want to succeed and prosper while working for the energy sector. It doesn’t change your Indigenous beliefs or values. If anything, you appreciate what you have and think about how you can help others while protecting Mother Earth at the same time.

A Majority of First Nations Support Resource Development

This is why a majority of First Nations in Canada support and depend on resource-based economic development as a way to move from managing poverty to managing prosperity. Our communities are deeply harmed when the resource sector struggles. Threats to a strong natural resource industry creates more strain in the community – or lacking, if you will - and that’s unnecessary.

Some non-Indigenous Canadians can relate to lacking employment, which COVID has made worse for many, many Canadians across our country, let alone the world. It’s hard to stay positive when holidays seem so materialistic.

With our current pandemic-induced economic downturn, many people from coast-to-coast are struggling more than ever before. Canadians need employment, both Indigenous and non- Indigenous people. Canada has an abundance of natural resources in every province and territory, which if developed in a sustainable and environmentally-conscious way, can help Canadians prosper. We have some the highest environmental standards world-wide and should be proud of that. In Canada, the energy sector supports Indigenous development, and from this healthy families and communities are formed.

There are no easy solutions. I mention family and holidays in the beginning because that is what is so important to most people - taking care of those we love. Canadians from all walks of life must work together to continue to responsibly develop and grow our energy sector. As you read this, influences from other countries or political parties are dividing Canadians like I have never witnessed before.

To those of us who are employed, I ask that you look around your community to see how you can support people who are less fortunate, even in a small way. Indigenous people who work in the energy sector or who are creating business opportunities for the community realize the value of income to an isolated community.

Many people move to Canada because it’s a land of opportunity. We have the natural resources our country needs to continue to make it a land of opportunity forever, if we continue to create balance with the environment and economy.

An Abundance of Natural Resources are a Blessing…

In closing, I think growing up in poverty did have some valuable lessons:

  • Cherish what you have
  • Taking care of family basics is so important to form a healthy person and community
  • Share what you can; it’s not the grandeur of the table but how long your table is to welcome others to feast with you
  • Don’t get lost in fear as things will get better if you work hard for it

What I have learned is that these lessons are also current today while I’m employed, and for all of us in these trying times. Let’s make sure we cherish the natural resources given to us and those in other parts of the country and use them to take care of everyone’s basic needs, then share the abundance that remains. If we do that, we shouldn’t have to struggle.

 

Estella Petersen is a member of Cowessess First Nation. She currently resides and works in Fort McMurray as a Heavy Machinery Operator in the oilsands.

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