Industry, Indigenous Relationships ‘Not Business As Usual’

While a template approach can be more efficient from a business standpoint, that method will not advance crucial, nuanced partnerships, such as those with Indigenous communities.

This need for flexibility by the resource industry was underscored by Tristan Goodman, president and chief executive officer of the Explorers and Producers Association of Canada (EPAC), during a recent panel discussion.

“ … Within those partnerships,” he said of Indigenous communities, “they will be different, depending on who you are working with.”

“This cookie cutter approach of showing up and saying ‘this is the way we do things’ — that is not going to work. Those days are, not acceptable, quite frankly. As I think I have heard and continue to hear from multiple Indigenous communities and nations across this country, ‘you are going to have to come to the table and actually work with us, and it is going to be different.’”

This variance in approach can be a challenge for industry, Goodman noted.

“You have all heard the term economies of scale,” he said. “It is a mode of making things very efficient. And the reason for that … Canada is actually quite a small country, we develop a lot of natural resources, and we need money [from] investors.

“That dollar, that next incremental unit coming in is very important to consider. How do we move forward on this while remaining, if you want to call it, competitive.”

Goodman was also asked about the impact of the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) introduced last year.

“That is a serious problem for this country,” he stated, during the early March event.

Goodman was part of a panel at the Indian Resource Council’s (IRC) Energy and Economic Reconciliation Conference in Calgary. He was joined by Joy Romero, president of Clean Resource Innovation Network (CRIN); Chris Gemmill, director of operations, Environmental Liability Management; and Alison Cretney, managing director, Energy Futures Lab (EFL).

Reflecting on earlier panel sessions at the event, Goodman noticed partnerships appeared to be a key word.

“I think … there is a fundamental pivot occurring,” he said. “It is not business as usual.

“You are probably going to move past just partnerships.”

He then turned to the recent agreement between the Government of British Columbia and Blueberry River First Nations (BRFN).

“There were some mistakes made, there is a path forward and the industry is going to have to take a little bit of a different look there as to how that will work on a go forward basis. And that will come to other areas in Alberta and Saskatchewan, Manitoba and so forth.”

With that said, Goodman sees positives building.

“This forum probably wouldn’t have occurred 10 years ago,” he said. “The relationships that are there, the ability to start picking up a phone and say, ‘we are thinking about this.’

“I think the other outstanding piece you are going to have to talk about it … where does this go forward from the perspective of revenue sharing? It is a very controversial conversation, and we can’t shy away from this.”

Revenue sharing is an area the IRC is pursuing.

Long-term influence

On the topic of partnerships between industry and Indigenous communities, Gemmill highlighted considerations around their lasting impact.

“Is the community better off than when we came in?” he said. “It’s easy for industry to go in, sit with the chief and council and talk about the project and get things rolling. But I think sometimes industry forgets there are young men and women in the community that want and need to work, as well.”

He continued: “When you are unemployed, a $300 pair of work boots is nearly unattainable. I think a lot of people forget about those things. We need to find ways to get those opportunities to those people.”

Some companies offer H2S training, which he says provides the theoretical component.

“ … But where is the practical application? Anybody can do a course, but it doesn’t mean you can actually do the job,” Gemmill said. 

“We need to find ways to get the community people involved, actually working so they know how to do the jobs themselves and they can continue and do the job on the next project.

“I think with industry and partnerships, there are always a lot of challenges,” he added. “Obviously, when companies and industries look at our projects, it’s like, ‘let’s get it going, money is approved,’ pound, pound, pound. But sometimes you need to stop and see what’s going on in the community. What are the needs? Listen to the people, find a way to get them more involved, even if that means the project extends, so be it.”

Community perspectives

According to Gemmill, the definition of project success needs to go beyond budgets and timeframes being met.

“We need to hear from [Indigenous] communities,” he shared. “Did we meet your goals? Did we meet what your expectations were of the project? When we leave, are you … satisfied?” 

Goodman said industry must slow down and engage with Indigenous partners before taking a project too far through the process.

“To some extent, it is going to be: How do you align what is possible from the industry perspective, what’s reasonable … what they can work in from their frame of reference, which is often a different frame of reference for the … Indigenous communities, that those partners will have to go through,” he added.

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