Who Said Indigenous Peoples Don’t Work in the Energy Sector?

23 First Nations Produce Oil on Reserve in Canada

Indigenous People do work in the energy sector, just like me! Whoever said we didn’t, or that we don’t support the oil and gas industry is not being honest about the will of the majority of Indigenous Peoples in Western Canada who support responsible and inclusive natural resource development in and around their communities.

Many of these Indigenous communities are located on resource rich lands often in extremely remote areas of the country, so creating long-lasting and well-paying employment opportunities for their people seems only logical. I mean, it’s a win-win for these communities as they get jobs and career training while their employers benefit from having a regional workforce living close by company operations.

Over the past decade, I’ve seen changes in regards to natural resource companies building new relationships with Indigenous communities by adopting more inclusive policies that have benefited Indigenous communities. Sure, large companies probably have always had a predetermined “agreement” or “quota” to hire a specific amount of Indigenous Peoples, but I can’t say for sure if these "recruitment numbers" were upheld so well in the past.

What I can say today, however, is that as an Indigenous worker in the oil and gas industry, I would love to see the percentage of Indigenous Peoples working in the sector to increase to even higher than the reported 7.4 per cent in 2019. At least - according to the survey - that was up more than a few percentage points versus 2018 (at 4.8 per cent), which is some good news in that respect.

We Need More Indigenous Ownership

Oil Sands Procurement Indigenous Suppliers 2019 Survey

Indigenous Peoples becoming stakeholders in natural resource projects is another thing I would like to see more of. Some select groups are now taking such initiatives into their own hands to create entrepreneurial business and / or partnerships with the energy industry.

For example, Shawn McDonald, a Métis man and Owner of Black Scorpion Contracting Ltd. in Lac La Biche who also happens to be the President of The Resource One Aboriginal Business Association (ROABA), says that full members of ROABA are at least 50 per cent Indigenous owned. Shawn mentioned that due to the pandemic, it's hard to track the number of Indigenous People employed within these companies but that they usually account for anywhere from 25 to 75 per cent of the workforce.

This is just one example of Indigenous Peoples having great success in the resource sector and sharing that success with their family, friends and others from their communities. This is also a great example as to why we need to support more Indigenous ownership in the resource sector as it supports participating communities and helps many of these people become more economically independent in the process.

We Need More Indigenous Resource Sector Jobs

Indigenous Facts Businesses 40x More Likely to Do Business with Natural Resources

Whether you’re Indigenous or not, if you’ve lived in Canada for some time you probably know by now that the unemployment rates in a majority of Indigenous communities are extremely high. Of course, not all of these communities have the same socioeconomic challenges, but there are still just so many barriers to development and progress.

A shortlist of these said barriers includes:

  • remote communities
  • limited educational opportunities
  • widespread poverty
  • substance abuse
  • lack of childcare
  • lack of licensing and transportation
  • racism, discrimination and stereotypes
  • money management
  • ENGOs (environmental non-governmental organizations)

That R word, and Reality

No one likes to hear the R word (racism), but it is something that many Indigenous People have to deal with on a daily basis. Discrimination and stereotypes of Indigenous Peoples are slowly being eliminated through new employment and educational opportunities in the resource sector and elsewhere, but the process could be much faster.

In time, I hope racism will not exist and will be part of the past, not just for Indigenous Peoples like myself, but for all ethnicities and races around the world.

With the abundance of resources in Canada and the high levels of unemployment in Indigenous communities, I see this as an opportunity to encourage Indigenous business and partnerships with natural resource companies and “hit two birds with one stone” so-to-speak.

Indigenous Participation is Growing

Support for Indigenous communities to participate in meaningful ways is growing. Groups like Indigenous Resource Network (IRN) and First Nations Major Projects Coalition (FNMPC) are bringing awareness and opportunity to others to support Indigenous business development.

Recently, a conference presented by the Laborers' International Union of North America (LiUNA) with over 1200 registered delegates were focused on the inclusion of Indigenous interests in relation to investment standards.

The shift to equal partnerships and leadership is happening right here and now. Canada will be a leader in proving that change can, and is happening for Indigenous communities across the country.

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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