Countless years of unbalanced media coverage on First Nations and natural resources in Alberta would lead any unknowing viewer to believe that the Aboriginal communities near oil sands operations are not pro-development. This could not be any further from the truth.
In a country as vast as Canada, natural resource development is a key economic driver for many rural First Nations communities. The sector provides jobs and opportunities in isolated regions from coast-to-coast. For many Aboriginals, a job in the resource sector is one of the only options for long-term, well-paying employment.
More needs to be done to get the word out that a large majority of First Nations want to see these projects go ahead and reap the benefits that such developments brings to their communities. More also needs to be done to show just how Alberta’s oil sands companies are moving forward towards Indigenous reconciliation while continuing to improve the consultation / inclusion process with these communities.
Here’s a handful of excellent modern-day examples demonstrating how Canadian oil and natural gas companies are taking steps towards reconciliation and are world-class when it comes to respecting, consulting and including First Nations.
$50 to $100 Million to Address Indigenous Housing Crisis
> Cenovus: $10 million per year over 5 years to help address housing crisis
> Cenovus: Potential to extend program to 10 years, for a total of $100 million
> Will create 200 new homes across 6 communities
In late January 2020, Cenovus announced plans to give $10 million a year to 6 First Nations and Metis communities to help address the Indigenous housing crisis in northern Alberta.
Cenovus believes this 5-year initiative – which has the potential to expand to 10 years for a total of $100 million, if successful - will provide about 200 new homes in the communities located near its operations while also creating new job and training opportunities for many residents.
The company sees these plans as an important step towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, although Cenovus is no stranger to providing new opportunities for communities found close by.
Major #oilsands producer pledges $50M for new homes in Indigenous communities near Alberta operations.— Oil Sands Action (@OilsandsAction) January 31, 2020
Also has committed another $1.5 billion of additional spending with Indigenous businesses on top of $3 billion spent over the past decade.https://t.co/RqYKYTD6EE
$3 Billion in Indigenous Spending, $1.5 Billion to Come
> Cenovus: $3 billion in Indigenous spending since 2009
> Cenovus: $1.5 billion in Indigenous spending through to 2030
Since its inception in 2009, Cenovus has spent nearly $3 billion with Indigenous owned and operated businesses and has signed 9 long-term benefit agreements with the First Nations communities located near its oil sands operations.
The company’s most recent news release where it mentioned $50 million over 5 years to help address the Indigenous housing crisis in northern Alberta also included plans to spend another $1.5 billion with Aboriginal businesses through to 2030.
According to many Indigenous leaders in Western Canada, new economic opportunities created for their communities by natural resource development is a vital step towards helping lift themselves out of poverty and becoming truly independent nations.
$5 Billion Spent with Indigenous Suppliers
> Suncor: $5 billion direct and indirect spend with indigenous businesses since 1999
> Suncor: $703 million Indigenous spend in 2018 with 83 businesses, 24 new suppliers
> Suncor: Signs agreement with two First Nations for a 49% equity stake in new project
Suncor, another major oil sands producer has spent $5 billion with indigenous suppliers since 1999, about half of which has been spent since 2013. In 2018, the company established its first Indigenous business engagement strategy which resulted in double the spending with Aboriginal businesses in downstream operations year-over-year.
To give you an idea of how much capital investment that is roughly on a yearly basis, in 2018 Suncor spent $703 million with 83 Indigenous businesses, including 24 new suppliers.
Suncor is also engaged in pursuing significant business partnerships with First Nations around its operations. An example would be the equity purchase agreements it signed with the Fort McKay First Nation and Mikisew Cree First Nation for a 49% stake of ownership in its East Tank Farm Development.
$500 Million in Contracts to Indigenous Businesses
> CNRL: $500 million spent on Indigenous businesses in 2018
Canadian Natural Resources (CNRL), one of Alberta’s largest oil sands producers, spent roughly $500 million with Indigenous businesses in 2018, up 35% year-over-year.
CNRL is keen on demonstrating its commitment to reconciliation not just by acquiring goods and services with businesses, but by also continually engaging with elders and community members to discuss issues and find solutions if necessary.
In 2018 for example, the company participated in or supported 777 community activities including important gatherings and celebrations, up 55% year-over-year.
$7.3 Billion in Indigenous Spending
> $7.3 billion spent with Indigenous businesses from 2013-2016
> $3.3 billion spent with Indigenous businesses from 2015-2016
> $48.6 million on investment into Indigenous communities from 2015-2016
While the spending and agreements between individual oil sands companies and First Nations highlight initiatives on a company-to-company basis, the industry as a whole spends even more with Indigenous businesses.
Between 2013 and 2016, for example, oil sands operators spent $7.3 billion on the procurement of goods and services from Indigenous businesses, a trend that the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers says is becoming more prevalent. On average that amounts to $1.8 billion per year.
From 2015 to 2016, the oil sands industry also invested $48.6 million into First Nations communities to help fund social programs, construction projects and other local initiatives.
Making Sure Aboriginal Communities Have a Voice
> $40.7 million to Indigenous communities for consultation capacity funding
A critical part of reconciliation is making sure that Indigenous voices are heard.
From 2015 to 2016, for example, oil sands operations provided more than $40 million to Indigenous communities for consultation capacity funding to help assist in developing respectful and mutually beneficial relationships.
Wherever else possible, companies have been working with Aboriginals through mutual benefit agreements and employment opportunities to assist them in building independent and tangible pathways to prosperity.
Investing in First Nations Communities
> Cenovus: $112 million invested into communities around its operations since 2009
> $48.6 million invested into Indigenous communities from 2015-2016
Since 2009, Cenovus has invested $112 million into the communities surrounding its operations. It also isn’t the only oil sands producer making these important investments.
The industry as a whole contributed $48.6 million to Indigenous communities between 2015 and 2016.
Community investment is often used to support social, cultural and infrastructure needs. Funding cultural events, building public facilities or sponsoring sports teams are just a few examples of what these millions are used for.
Scholarships for Indigenous Youth
> Cenovus: 190 scholarships awarded to Indigenous youth since 2013
Cenovus is just one oil sands company providing educational opportunities to Indigenous youth from communities located near operations and are pursuing a full-time degree, diploma or certified trade program. Since 2013, the company has supported 190 of these scholarships to a diverse array of First Nations youth.
By pursuing a post-secondary education, these students have chosen to better their own chances of future success and become role models for other youth within their communities. They study a wide range of programs including power engineering, nursing, educational assistant, Indigenous administration and governance, Indigenous education and natural resources technology to name a few.
Several other oil sands companies also support educational opportunities for Aboriginal youth through a national Indigenous charity called Indspire.
Supporting Indigenous Charity for Education
> Millions donated annually by oil sands producers towards Indigenous education
> Oil sands companies part of bursaries, scholarships and awards program
Indspire is an Indigenous charity in Canada that invests in the education of First Nations members for the long-term benefit of these individuals, their loved ones and communities.
Syncrude, Cenovus, Husky, Suncor, Imperial, Teck and Shell, all producers in the oil sands, have collectively donated millions to this initiative to help support advancing the education of Indigenous youth not only in Alberta, but across Canada.
Imperial, for example, has been a committed partner to Indspire’s Building Brighter Futures: Bursaries, Scholarships and Awards program since 2007. Suncor is another, providing multiple bursaries through Indspire over the past several years.
Teck Frontier Mine Has Agreements with All First Nations
> 14 benefit agreements signed between Teck and all First Nations near the project
Teck’s new Frontier mine is a prime example of the oil sands industry’s initiative to include Indigenous peoples and move forward towards reconciliation.
Since 2008, Teck has done extensive consultations with the First Nations to hear their concerns on the environment and ensure treaty rights / traditional uses of the land are protected. As a result, all 14 First Nations and Metis communities located nearby have signed benefit agreements with Teck.
Frontier made history in the sense that it was the first major project to have the backing of all affected Indigenous communities. Even Allan Adam, Chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation who is best known for his resistance to oil sands development has signed with Teck.
Canada’s Oil and Gas Industry as a Whole
> 6% of workers in the oil and gas sector are Indigenous
> First Nations have higher wages in natural resource industry
Canada’s oil and gas industry as a whole has supported First Nations communities all over the country. In 2016, about 6%, or 11,900 individuals working in the sector identified as Indigenous.
A report released by the Montreal Economic Institute (MEI) found that these workers had significantly higher incomes than Indigenous peoples employed in other sectors.
In 2016, for example, the average wage for First Nations members working in oil and gas extraction was nearly $150,000, and over $200,000 for those working on natural gas pipelines.
Natural resource development has given many remote First Nations communities across Canada the opportunity to prosper economically not just today, but for many years to come.
Alberta's oil sands operators take Indigenous reconciliation very seriously, many of whom have set up permanent committees to study inclusion of First Nations more extensively and make recommendations on how to integrate them into their businesses even more so in the future.
These companies truly have set new a precedent when it comes to reconciling with First Nations communities, through extensive consultations, business inclusion and benefit agreements that are meaningful to name a few.