Indigenous Peoples in Canada Can Speak for Themselves

Trans Mountain Pipeline Indigenous Spend Dec 31st, 2020

If only you would listen, you’d hear Indigenous People trying to assert our needs. Some people say we should forget our past and move forward to the future. Well, we are trying to move forward. At times, some Indigenous People feel the need to get loud and vocal so that we can get some attention, and sometimes non-Indigenous People feel the need to get loud and vocal under the guise of our name even if not for our benefit.

“If you’re really concerned with Indigenous issues, let us develop our natural resources and become self-sufficient as all Canadians should be.”

When Indigenous business negotiations with natural resource companies are happening, there are groups of people, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, trying to speak for the respective community involved. This creates way more havoc than help. Often organizations insisting on “speaking” for the Indigenous community have not even spoken to said community about what its needs are.

Sometimes these groups have good intentions but they are unwarranted. Most Indigenous peoples in their respective communities know what they need and how to express and negotiate for these needs to natural resource developers.

I’m skeptical of people who jump on the band wagon of supporting a cause without even doing their research. It reminds me of the people who take selfies with a homeless person when they give them a bottle of water. What is really their motive? I’d say it’s not entirely to help that homeless person. Likewise, when I see students in universities donning their “in support of” signs for certain Indigenous groups but when asked specifics about the situation they are protesting they can’t give any answer. Or the tweets from large companies asking others to stop supporting fossil fuels: in doing so, you’re asking the companies to deprive Indigenous Peoples of the same livelihood most Canadians enjoy.

I like to research where the funding comes from for large groups of supporters, which sometimes explains their motives. In reality people claiming “to stand with” or “speak for” are actually doing just the opposite.

If you’re really concerned with Indigenous issues, let us develop our natural resources and become self-sufficient as all Canadians should be.

“Often organizations insisting on “speaking” for the Indigenous community have not even spoken to the community about what its needs are.”

Corporations ask you to invest in Indigenous rights by doing the very thing that would keep us in poverty

patagonia tweet indigenous resource networkTake this example of the clothing company Patagonia, asking people to stop funding fossil fuels in order to invest in Indigenous rights. Are they aware that the oil and gas industry in Canada directly employs 12,000 Indigenous People, or that we make up 7.8% of extractive industries employees, versus only 4.7% for federal service? Do they know that the average wage of Indigenous Persons working in mining and quarrying was more than double the average across all industries?

As the Indigenous Resource Network, of which I am a member, responded: “Indigenous rights include economic rights. Many of our communities are seeking equity ownership in energy projects. We need to work with banks and investors to achieve this. Please don’t make that harder.”     

Indigenous needs are basic needs that most Canadians already have 

What do many Indigenous People in Canada want? We’d like to have clean drinking water and safe housing. We’d like our treaty rights and promises upheld. We want the right to earn a good livelihood, since living off the land is not enough to survive. We also know that many of our reservations are rich in natural resources including but not limited to to forestry, fishing, oil and gas and minerals.

We’ve become educated and realize it is our right to be owners, or choose to create partnerships with companies to develop these natural resources. Our communities and families need this. So, when you are defending Indigenous rights, don’t forget the essential right to economic development, to own-source revenues and the right to say “YES” to natural resource projects that benefit our communities.

Our communities and families need opportunities

Although Canadian governments allocate money to reservations, some of those funds become mismanaged or do not reach members in the community. When natural resource development is in an Indigenous community, it becomes an integral building block for economic parity.

Indigenous Business Procurement Oil Sands 2015-2016

This shift is apparent by Indigenous employment, skills and trades. There’s simply more education opportunities and infrastructure projects in the community. Socioeconomic problems lessen such as incarceration, suicide, poverty, addiction, health issues, unemployment and crime along with other social problems. The overall feeling of community well-being and individual growth is improved. But money isn’t always the end all be all.

Money isn’t everything

Indigenous People are rightfully proud of our culture. We have withstood adversity in the past; most Canadians would agree. But today we are becoming increasingly concerned about our present economic situation future outlook. Money isn’t everything that is true, but having none is not good either. On reserve poverty is real and it impacts every element of our lives. Our primary need is to move our people from poverty to prosperity. We know we can do this through equity positions in sustainable resource projects that allow us to maintain economic independence and develop our communities for future generations.

We know what we need. We are working hard to achieve it, even though groups who claim to speak for us often become a serious obstruction to our progress. So please, let Indigenous communities negotiate and speak for ourselves. I cannot count how many of my Indigenous peers I’ve talked to and would say the exact same thing.


About the Author

Estella Petersen - Heavy Equipment Operator & Indigenous Woman in the Oil Sands

Estella Petersen is a heavy machinery operator in the oil sands out of Fort McMurray. Estella is from the Cowessess Reserve and is passionate about Canada and supporting Canadian natural resources.

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