New Reports on Energy Resource Development and First Nations Communities in Canada

Anyone who has been watching the news out of Canada is aware that numerous clashes have occurred between First Nations communities and various energy development companies. H/T to a post by First Peoples Worldwide for providing links to two reports released in December 2013 that are specifically about First Nations and resource extraction.

Report one was produced by The Charrette on Energy, Environment and Aboriginal Issues, comprised of a group of 21 leaders from First Nations, the extractive industry, the financial industry, environmental groups, and the Canadian government. The report begins with this quote:

We believe that the responsible development of our energy resources presents a substantial opportunity for Canada; however, virtually all proposed energy resource developments are mired in conflict which threatens that opportunity. We sense a growing frustration with this situation among industry, Aboriginal peoples, the environmental community and Canadians at large. We believe that we are all here to stay and it is imperative that we identify and build on the common ground that exists among us — or the current and future benefits that accrue to Canadians from all forms of energy resource development will be at risk.

Our desire is to change the substance, nature and tone of debates over energy resource development in Canada. We are inspired by the increasing number of innovative approaches being employed across Canada to avert or resolve conflicts or share benefits. Many of these are created outside of the regulatory process by people of goodwill who are trying to secure mutual benefits from energy resource development. It is these types of initiatives which we hope will define the future of energy resource development in Canada.

The report goes on to lay out some of the interests of industry, aboriginal peoples, and environmentalists and proposes some ways to reconcile these varied interests.

Report two was produced by The Fraser Institute. The executive summary of this report says:

It has been estimated that, over the next decade, more than 600 major resource projects, worth approximately $650 billion, are planned for Canada, and First Nations communities have a unique opportunity to benefit from these developments. As this study demonstrates, every oil and gas project currently proposed in western Canada implicates at least one First Nations community, giving them an opportunity to increase employment and eco- nomic prosperity through collaboration in energy development. . . .

Current unemployment rates in First Nations communities suggest that this group has much to gain from development in the energy sector. While the national unemployment rate is 7.1 percent, the unemployment rate for First Nations reserves is a staggering 23 percent. Unemployment rates are particu- larly high (20 percent to over 42 percent) in First Nations communities that are located in areas identified for oil and gas development.

The unique combination of population density in remote, resource-rich areas, a growing and young population, and a high level of unemployment places the First Nations in a unique position to benefit from energy develop- ment in Canada.

The report then goes on to document the geographic locations of First Nations communities close to proposed extractive development projects, unemployment rates, median ages within First Nations communities and the opportunities that this group believes energy resource development projects will bring to the communities.

These reports are important reading for anyone wanting to understand the current conversations going on within Canada regarding energy resource development and First Nations/Aboriginal communities. Like their conclusions or hate them, it is clear that industry and governmental leaders alike are recognizing that extractive industry development cannot move forward without more attention paid to the wishes and needs of these communities.

A question often comes to mind when reading about this issue – what happens if after all of the consultations and discussions and attempts to come to a compromise, a community still says no? What if it doesn’t care about the monetary benefits that may arise and it refuses to give consent under any circumstances? Is a community really free to withhold consent or only to determine some of the conditions under which it gives consent?

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