Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry
August 2019

Vol. 24, No.33 Week of August 18, 2019

Juggling indigenous rivals

Alberta offering aid for pro-resource of First Nations groups v American funding

Gary Park

for Petroleum News

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney marked his first 100 days in office by launching a new phase of his Fight Back Strategy against those who challenge natural resource development.

His government has set aside C$10 million to pick up the legal tabs of First Nations who defend pipelines and other resource projects.

Separately, the most telling test of government willingness to open a new phase for aboriginal equity participation in major projects has been accelerated by word that the Canadian government has sent letters to 129 indigenous communities that might have an interest in securing a stake in the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau said that with government approval of the expansion “we can begin discussions with the many communities that may be interested in becoming partners in getting Canada’s natural resources to market. Our government looks forward to moving the project forward in a way that reflects our commitment to reconciliation (between First Nations and the Canadian government).”

The letters say the government will host discussions with First Nations in August in Ottawa, Victoria, Vancouver and Edmonton to determine what economic participation could look like.

However, Morneau pointed out that having taken over Trans Mountain the government has an obligation to benefit all Canadians, not just aboriginals, and that the expansion will be built and operated on a commercial basis.

Funding to oppose derailing projects

On the downside, Kenney has argued that some well-funded First Nations have used the courts to derail projects such as the Trans Mountain expansion, stifling those indigenous groups who support such projects.

“For too long, pro-development First Nations have been ignored in the debate over resource development,” he told a news conference.

He said the Alberta government is now prepared to write checks to cover court action by indigenous communities, as well as corporations or nonprofit groups with indigenous involvement, to file countersuits or intervene in existing cases.

Indigenous entrepreneur Calvin Helin - who is president and chair of Eagle Spirit Energy Holdings which has proposed a C$16 billion oil pipeline from the oil sands to a tanker port on the northern British Columbia coastline - said the litigation fund is an “excellent idea.”

“You have First Nations people who often are natural resource rich, but cash poor. They don’t have money (to cover litigation initiatives). How do we compete against American foundations,” which have been accused of covering the legal bills of anti-development organizations?

Helin said Eagle Spirit, a council of 35 chiefs and mayors along the proposed pipeline right of way are fed up with environmental groups telling indigenous communities how they should look after their people.

He said First Nations have been steward of their traditional lands for thousands of years, but now must find ways to fund social programs and ease economic hardship.

“They really resent ... these fly-in celebrities entering their territories and interfering in their communities by basically hiring local people to be props and puppets for their opposition to most developments.”

GoFundMe campaign

Eagle Spirit’s council has opened a GoFundMe campaign to help fund a legal fight against the Canadian government’s Bill C-48 banning tankers from the B.C. northern coast but has so far raised only half of its C$100,000 goal.

“In a lawsuit against the cashed-up federal government, that’s not going to take you very far,” Helin said.

He said First Nations that are part of the Eagle Spirit proposal were not consulted about Bill C-48, despite court rulings that require governments to engage indigenous people in consultation.

Chief Leah George-Wilson, of the British Columbia Tsleil-Waututh Nation, which is the lead plaintiff in a case against Trans Mountain, brushed off the Alberta litigation fund.

“It doesn’t matter who is on the other side,” she said. “I still have those aboriginal rights and title and Canada still has a duty to consult and accommodate.”

Canadian Senator Murray Sinclair, Manitoba’s first indigenous judge, said Kenney’s approach is nothing new.

“It is very typical of the way governments have approached the issue of indigenous people ... that is to foment division and to ensure those who are on the side of whatever government policy is at issue or whatever corporate interest is at play are the ones that get corporate or government money,” he said.

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