Despite higher-than-usual tensions between First Nations and industry following the wrap-up of Neil Young’s Honour the Treaties concert series, Aboriginal groups and industry leaders made strides toward better dialogue in Fort McMurray last week at an oilsands conference focused on First Nations.
The two-day conference, called “Energy and the Oilsands: Aboriginal Perspectives,” was jointly held by Fort McKay First Nation and the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business and saw presentations from First Nations, industry and researchers.
“I think a lot of people have a better understanding of each others’ perspectives,” Fort McKay Chief Jim Boucher shared with The Journal after the last presentation wrapped up Friday afternoon.
The conference was the first of its kind to provide a dialogue between First Nations’ concerns and oilsands industry leaders, said Jean Paul Gladu, president of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business.
“It’s really been truly reflective of a willingness to find a common path to go down and being realistic about the challenges as well,” he said.
“We need to find a way forward that is going to benefit everybody as well as respect a lot of the community wishes on the environment.”
Boucher said Aboriginal participants used the opportunity to share concerns about how the oilsands have been affecting their traditional territories and the lack of consultation from the government.
“The environment is very important to our people and it’s something that we’ve always been concerned about since the 1960s,” he said.
Fort McKay has recently taken legal steps to block an expansion project on the Dover oilsands, located near Moose Lake on the band’s traditional territory.
“I think oil producers want to do the right thing,” but there is a fine balance between that and their want to access the resources to produce oil, Boucher said.
While the conference has made important strides in communication, Boucher said there still needs to be more dialogue between all parties.
The rapid pace of oilsands development is still a concern, he said. “I think we need to understand where we want to be and we need to figure out which standards need to be enforced.”
Alberta government missing in action
With no shortage of representation from industry, Boucher said it was the Alberta government that had a poor showing at the conference.
“There were some people from the opposition parties of course, but (the government) did not come in here and participate,” he said.
“The government has a duty and a responsibility to consult with First Nations with respect to these proposed projects” based on a historical obligation that dates back to the treaties made 115 years ago, Boucher said.
“It’s time for them to consider what they should be doing with respect to resolutions of these issues.”