“Supporter Spotlight” features Canadians with a passion for Canada’s Natural Resource sector. Our spotlight this month is Estella Petersen, a heavy machinery operator from Fort McMurray. Estella is from the Cowessess Reserve and is passionate about Canada and all of its natural resources.
Canada Action: Estella! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us today! You are a very busy woman. You are very much involved with IRN (the Indigenous Resource Network), and are very vocal about Canadian natural resources. Tell me a little bit more about your background and yourself.
Estella Petersen: Well! My name is Estella Petersen, I live in Fort McMurray and I’m originally from the Cowessess reserve in Saskatchewan. I’m a heavy equipment operator for an oil & gas company. I operate equipment which I really love - I never did before I moved up to Fort McMurray so it’s definitely a change. I love my job. I am also part of IRN which is a network for Indigenous people who are workers, business owners… anyone who is involved in natural resources really. It’s a place where people can have a voice and feel part of a community.
Canada Action: How does one become a heavy machine operator? How did that happen?
Estella Peterson: I went through a transition in life. I had worked in a variety of roles and so I researched what kind of jobs I could have and I had friends who were coming up to Fort McMurray and earning a very good living. And because I was working two and a half jobs in Calgary and still struggling, I thought why not try to get a job in Fort McMurray. Several people discouraged me because I didn’t have any experience and it can be so isolating in Fort McMurray. But I applied to 20 different places and one person hired me on the spot! And here I am, 9 years later!
Canada Action: You work in a male dominated industry. How do you find that? Has it been difficult to adapt to the environment?
Estella Petersen: I’m not going to lie. When I first started, it was difficult because I am indigenous and I am a woman and at the time, there weren’t a lot of women working with me. But now, the company I work for has an amazing women’s program and the male / female ratio is really good.
Canada Action: Why do you think natural resource development is important for Canada?
Estella Petersen: I got involved in this because it hits me right in the heart. I think our natural resources are our best asset - besides the people of course. We have an abundance here, an abundance of land. And if we use it responsibly, we can all be prosperous. And with all the equity payments that the provinces send out, I feel like there is no reason for anyone to struggle in this country.
Canada Action: As an Indigenous person, do you ever get into arguments with other Indigenous people in regards to your opinion on the topic?
Estella Petersen: Yes, unfortunately I do and it’s disappointing. I feel like several people I speak to can be close-minded. Sometimes it feels like if you’re Indigenous, you have to be a guardian of the land. Which - I feel like I am because I’ve seen the land reclamation in the oil sands and I do feel like they’re giving a good effort! Obviously there’s always room for improvement but I think that with regulations in place, we will do even more for the land. I’m always standing up for the oil sands and for all natural resources. And often Indigenous people feel like if one person or Indigenous group is loud, we all have to stand together - even if it’s wrong. And I think people should stand back, look at both sides and go with what they feel is right. On reserves, I think people benefit from natural resources and I think once they get involved, they see how their life is changing. But once you’re living in a cycle, it’s hard to break the cycle. You’ve got to make a change. I think education and employment are so key to minority groups.
Canada Action: 100%. I also think people don’t always realize how much we need natural resources. Something as simple as phones and all the technology we use… we need mines for those items!
Estella Petersen: I think Canada is a world leader - and I’m not just saying that. I actually believe it! I believe we are world leaders compared to other countries. How we produce our oil and how ethical we are on all levels. Human rights etc, I think we can be greater leaders and I think our products are becoming greener. Producers are listening to what people are saying and they are making changes all the time and developing new products and new ways of doing things.
Canada Action: Why do you think all Canadians should care about Canadian natural resource development? Is there any kind of message that you want to tell Canadians reading this?
Estella Petersen: One of the things I think people should think about is that a lot of people move to Canada because they want a good life. And the good life in Canada, a lot of it came from natural resources. The money that is made from natural resources, gets dispersed all over Canada and it helps communities, schools, hospitals… People who come to Canada and want a good life, they need to know where that good life comes from. It doesn’t just get handed out by the government. People have to realize that if we don’t take care of our natural resources now and we don’t support them, another country is going to come in here and we’re going to end up buying their product. OR there are going to be so many restrictions on our own products that they are going to be very expensive to purchase. I want a good life and I want everyone to have a good life and we can have it here. I would love it if Canadians became more vocal. We’re known as kind and considerate but now is the time to speak up and write letters and be a little more assertive and speak up for all Canadian resources.
Canada Action: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Estella Petersen: I’ve become vocal as an Indigenous woman because there’s such a division between non-Indigenous and Indigenous people. As much as people want to paint a picture of a cohesive country, we’re not. But this is one thing that can change people’s views. Indigenous people want to get out of the negative stereotypes that non-Indigenous people see us in. And this is one way we can do it. We want to help Canada, but we also want to help ourselves, so please, let’s do this together. People should really get involved, reach out, get vocal!
Canada Action: Estella, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much for your time today.
Estella Petersen: Thank you! I’m so grateful to Canada Action. It’s given me a voice, and hopefully I can inspire other Indigenous people and Canadians to speak up for our natural resources because they are our best asset.
Do you know someone who works hard for Canada’s Natural Resource sector and should be featured in our “Supporter Spotlight” segment? Tag us @canadaaction with the hashtag #inthespotlight with your nominees!
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