By Shari Narine
Oil and gas development are means by which First Nations can improve their economic situation. Condensate, the liquid aspect of natural gas, was used by spiritual leaders and Elders to cure Kainai people of their physical ailments and injuries, said Chief Roy Fox.
“And so the way I look at it, we should continue to use (condensate) as leaders in perhaps not curing physical ailments, but those ailments that keep our people in poverty,” said Fox, who spoke out in favour of the White House’s approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Fox and chiefs Stanley Grier (Piikani Nation) and Joe Weasel Child (Siksika Nation) were with Premier Rachel Notley in Calgary March 24 when the premier expressed her pleasure in President Donald Trump giving the nod to Trans Canada’s Keystone XL. The project had been shelved by former president Barack Obama.
Notley said the Keystone XL pipeline project would result in an immediate 5,000 jobs and at least $1 billion in direct investment in Alberta. She hopes to see “shovels in the ground” in eight to 12 months, the same time frame set for work to get underway for the Kinder Morgan pipeline twinning. But, Notley admitted, there will still be environmental issues to consider before Keystone XL can go ahead.
The project, brought forward in 2008 by Calgary-based Trans Canada, will carry more than 800,000 barrels of oil per day from Hardisty to Nebraska, where it will link to an existing pipeline network of U.S. refineries and ports along the Gulf of Mexico. The entire route of the pipeline is close to 1,900 km.
While an advocacy group in Nebraska has threatened to delay the project by taking court action, Notley was still optimistic.
“I think it’s just a matter of, again, trying to find an appropriate accommodation of the issues and recognizing the respective rights. So as we move forward everybody has their respective rights and there are processes through which they’ll be worked out and, in the meantime, our view is always that you’re going to make better progress … rolling up your sleeves and trying to work out accommodations,” she said.
Fox said the Blood Nation has been on both sides of the pipeline issue, supporting Indigenous peoples in the United States opposed to the project, but also benefitting as a First Nation from energy development.
“I think that through true communication that parties can come together and they can agree on how they can resolve their differences,” he said. “I support the protection of the environment, but however, I also support the fact that tribal leaders have to bring additional resources to the people that they represent specifically, and that is why we have been involved in the energy sector, that is why we are oil and natural gas producers.”
Weasel Child echoed Fox’s comments, noting Siksika’s economy was also suffering from low oil and gas prices.
Grier said he had recently spent eight days in the U.S. discussing the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines with members of the U.S. Senate and Congress and former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
Grier said the pipelines would “ultimately (have to go) through Indian country” – including Blackfoot territory – and he understood the concerns surrounding, specifically, the aquifers the Dakota Access pipeline would run close to.
“I’m not opposed to (the Keystone XL pipeline) as long as there’s meaningful consultation and accommodation and how we can …work that way through with respect to our sister tribes down in the States, because we don’t really recognize this border …
“I think there’s a way forward, there’s a solution there, but I think we just have to give more time to it,” said Grier, who added he fully supported the Notley government’s commitment to renewable energy.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde issued a statement following the Trump approval of Keystone XL in which he stressed the need for true consultation.
“This is an important moment to remind Canadians that First Nations hold inherent rights and Treaty rights recognized in Canada’s Constitution and remind governments everywhere that we hold rights in international law, including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which both Canada and the United States support.
“This includes the right to free, prior and informed consent over any activities that could affect our lands, our lives or our futures. Governments must respect and honour these rights, just as First Nations will work to ensure that they are upheld,” said Bellegarde.