Energy and the oil sands: Aboriginal Perspectives

Fort McKay First Nation with a total population of 750 members, 500 of which live on reserve has the geographic distinction of sitting some 60 kilometers from Fort McMurray, at the centre of oil sands development. With six major energy players such as Syncrude, Suncor and Shell surrounding Fort McKay, many challenges echo the need for sustained economic stability against a demanding backdrop of environmental and community concerns.

Navigating these literal waters Chief Jim Boucher and the community have managed to build successful participation in oil sands development that is often cited as a model for Aboriginal and First Nation communities across the country with an eye on workable, equitable and sustainable development. Fort McKay First Nation’s companies generate revenue of $100 million dollars a year and employ 800 people in oil-sands-related services. This monumental entrepreneurial accomplishment did not occur over night and comes with unique demands from both industry and Aboriginal peoples.

The recent release of a study from the Vancouver based Fraser Institute by Ravina Bains, Opportunities for First Nations Prosperity Through Oil and Gas Development, speaks directly to 600 major resource projects worth an estimated $650 billion dollars. Looked at purely from a statistical point of view it would seem obvious to mainstream Canadians that this would be a win win for Aboriginal peoples. We must not overlook the environmental and business challenges that face our Aboriginal communities. With often limited resources and substandard infrastructures they are expected to navigate the demands of major corporations that have armies of lawyers and huge dollars to fast track the very future of our Aboriginal peoples. Development is as much about timing as it is a dollars issue.

Chief Boucher approached the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) to explore what could be done jointly that would make a difference and move the larger energy development issue forward from an Aboriginal perspective. It was decided that there needed to be a national conversation and sharing of ideas that reflected the new reality and strength of Aboriginal business, energy and the oil sands and the Aboriginal perspective.

It was through this process that Fort McKay First Nation and CCAB decided to jointly present “Energy and the Oil Sands, Aboriginal Perspectives” conference January 22, 23 & 24, 2014 at the Sawridge Inn and Conference Centre in Fort McMurray Alberta. The goal is to bring together industry experts in Oil Sands, Aboriginal economics and the Environment for a gathering that will explore and discuss these important topics with panel experts.

Some of the panels will include discussions on: Economics: The oil industry: the present state & future outlook; Industry forum: Working with Aboriginal business and First Nations; Best practices forum: Working in the oil industry, success stories; Networking in the oil industry & on the national stage: How associations work on behalf of Aboriginal business; Aboriginal issues forum: Treaty and Aboriginal rights; and Environmental forum: State of address and working with the oil industry.

JP Gladu CCAB President and CEO stated, “The entrepreneurial spirit of our people is thriving, setting the stage for a new relationship with business. Long gone are the days where Aboriginal people are going to sit by and idly watch development take place on their lands in a scenario where they don’t rightfully share the wealth and play an active role in the decision making processes that directly affect their lands and peoples. Aboriginal peoples want a piece of the action.”

We also want to challenge business and all Canadians to come to the table in the spirit of a renewed opportunity to share best practices while respecting the need for equitable partnerships.

Fort McKay First Nation Chief Jim Boucher stated, “Energy and the Oil Sands, Aboriginal Perspectives will create much needed necessary dialogue. We want business development, it’s a question of how do we get there, socially, culturally, economically and environmentally in a sustainable way? We believe the practice and preservation of the traditional way of life can occur simultaneously alongside continuous, entrepreneurial and responsible development.”

The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business fosters sustainable business relations between First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples and Canadian Business. The non-profit organization has the framework to encourage mainstream business in Canada to equitably share the next business chapter in Canada by not repeating past mistakes.

The conference emceed by filmmaker, journalist and hip hop artist Wab Kinew includes a gala dinner emceed by film star Adam Beach with entertainment provided by award winning Winnipeg musician Don Amero. For more information regarding this event please contact Fred McDonald, Director of Special Events and Museum Development, Fort McKay First Nation at (780) 370-8374 or visit the Fort McKay website at or the CCAB website at

by Andre Morriseau 


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