Indigenous Leadership in Natural Resources

Indigenous Leadership in Natural Resources

Far from opposing natural resource development, the majority of Indigenous communities from every province and territory across Canada choose to engage directly in the sector, securing important economic benefits while ensuring future generations can enjoy the land.

Today, hundreds of Indigenous nations and communities have entered into agreements and partnerships to develop oil & gas, mining, forestry, aquaculture and other projects. As a result, the natural resource industry is Canada’s predominant sector for creating opportunities for: 

  • Indigenous nations to generate own-source revenues
  • Indigenous entrepreneurs to grow their businesses
  • Indigenous workers to make a good living

Indigenous Peoples & Economic Development

Indigenous Peoples Support Natural Resource Development in Canada

Indigenous Peoples are sometimes thought to be outside the global economy and opposed to any and all development. In reality, First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples have been involved in sophisticated economies and far-reaching trade systems for millennia.

The fur trade saw the growth of trade and business between European and Indigenous Peoples which helped establish Canada as a nation, until the forced settlement of Indigenous Peoples in the 19th and 20th centuries made most of their economic opportunities disappear.

Over the past few decades, First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples have resumed their place in the national and global economies as title holders, employees, partners and increasingly as owners of small and large business ventures. For Indigenous Peoples, there can be no political self-determination without economic self-determination.

Indigenous Rights Include Economic Rights

Indigenous Peoples in Canada Benefit from Natural Resource Sector JobsIndigenous rights are human rights. Among the most critical of human rights are economic ones – the right to an adequate standard of living, including food, water and shelter, and the ability to live in dignity and participate fully in society including through work. These have been enshrined in documents including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Human Rights.                                    

While Indigenous Peoples in Canada have consistently asserted their economic rights, much of the current political and intellectual discussion on Aboriginal rights has focused narrowly on their ability to say ‘no’ to economic development. Ensuring equitable participation in and benefits from the modern economy – being able to say ‘yes’ to development – is just as important to the well-being of Indigenous Peoples.

In fact, many Indigenous leaders have publicly expressed the absolute need for control over local resource development as a means of battling the scourge of systemic, inter-generational poverty. Our perspective is that Indigenous leaders have shown time and again they’re more than capable of making the economic arguments. Canada Action only hopes we’re all able to listen to such arguments.


a majority of first nations in B.C. support coastal gaslink

Although government deliberations of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) tend to focus only on the meaning of “free, prior and informed consent”, the declaration covers economic aspects of Indigenous rights in depth, mentioning the concept 14 times.

UNDRIP's assertions include that:                                         

> Indigenous Peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right, they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development (Article 3)

> Indigenous Peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions, while retaining their right to participate fully, if they so choose, in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the State (Article 5)

> Indigenous Peoples have the right to maintain and develop their political, economic and social systems or institutions, to be secure in the enjoyment of their own means of subsistence and development, and to engage freely in all their traditional and other economic activities (Article 20.1)

> Indigenous Peoples have the right, without discrimination, to the improvement of their economic and social conditions, including, inter alia, in the areas of education, employment, vocational training and retraining, housing, sanitation, health and social security (Article 21.1)                                             

Economic, business and community development are all needed to improve the prosperity and well-being of First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples while supporting their self-determination.

"First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples work to reduce poverty by promoting economic opportunities in their communities. Natural Resources projects are key to their success."

Indigenous & Resources in Canada: Facts

Indigenous Line 3 Employment Statistics Canada September 2019

  • Many Indigenous communities are located in rural and remote areas where few other economic drivers exist
  • The natural resources sector creates many economic and job opportunities: The sector accounts for 17% of GDP and 1.71 million jobs in Canada (NRC)
  • Indigenous communities have rights to the enjoyment and use of their territories and resources
  • Many resource projects require consultation, and in some cases consent, making Indigenous communities and entrepreneurs natural partners in resource development
  • Canada's natural resource industry has the highest average level of indigenous employment of any sector (Statistics Canada 2018, Government of Canada 2016)
    • Extractive oil & gas, quarrying, mining: 7.8%
    • Federal Public Service: 4.7%
    • All Industries: 3.9%
  • The average wage of Indigenous persons working in mining, quarrying and oil & gas was more than double the average wage across all industries - $98,952 versus $44,433 (Statistics Canada 2018)
  • 39% of all Aboriginal businesses are engaged in the extractive industries (mining, quarrying and oil & gas), compared to less than 1% of all Canadian businesses
  • Almost 200 First Nations earned own-source revenues from natural resources in 2013/14, the latest year available (Fraster Institute 2016)
  • A majority, or 54% of resource companies reported having a formal strategy for Indigenous employment and business development, vs. 24% across all sectors in Canada (Indigenous Works 2017)
  • 1200 Indigenous communities are within 200km of an active mining exploration project (Mining Association of Canada 2014)

Economic, business and community development are all needed to improve the prosperity and well-being of First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples while supporting their self-determination. Indigenous organizations across Canada are working hard to advance these objectives.

Take Action!Indigenous supporter of Canadian natural resource development

Canada Action is proud to partner with several Indigenous Communities and Pro-Resource Development groups including:

  • Indigenous Resource Network is a platform for Indigenous voices that are supportive of Indigenous participation in resource development
  • Indian Resource Council is an advocacy organization of First Nations working for greater control and management of their natural resources
  • National Coalition of Chiefs is a community of pro-development First Nation Chiefs and Metis leaders that advocate for the development of oil and gas resources in their communities

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