Speaking Out: Consensus comes from sincere discussions and meaningful negotiations

by John Copley

(ANNews) – To build or not to build – that is the question. Or maybe it’s a dilemma? Whatever it is, the time has come to sit down and create some real bargaining, not with government or oil companies, but with each other. Pro pipeline? Anti-pipeline? There are some solid arguments for both sides of the equation to consider but that doesn’t mean that somewhere in between, a solution can’t be found.

Not too long ago a consortium of some 50 First Nations and the environmental agencies that both entice them and support them made it clear that they would not allow pipeline development on their traditional territory and they formed the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sand Expansion in order to stop all pipeline development. The alliance noted that “Indigenous Law (prohibits) the pipelines/trains/tankers that will feed the expansion of the Alberta Tar Sands.” 

A week or so later another group came together to discuss ways they can encourage development. At the time, National Grand Chief Perry Bellegarde said though he realizes it will be difficult to find common ground, it isn’t impossible. He wants First Nations across the country to get more involved in economic development, telling CBC that “we are tired of being poor.”

In a speech, he went on to note that if pipelines are built “there will be spills, but how do you mitigate that? Can you quickly stop it so it has very little impact on land and water? That’s the fear. We’re going to work through this. Be patient, it can happen.”

Chiefs whose communities are already utilizing agreements with oil companies met in Calgary for a couple of days in October to discuss traditional values versus the dangers of energy development.

Kainai First Nation Chief Charles Weasel Head called the rift between the anti and pro pipeline proponents “a dilemma” noting that “we have opposing views on oil sands development, pipeline construction (and) tidewater access for oil to reach world markets. This thing is not going to go away.” 

All the more reason then, to broaden the bargaining tables to ensure that everyone who has a stake in the future, with or without pipelines, can sit down and talk about what measures can be put in place to ensure that everyone’s goals are met.

There’s always at least two sides to every story, every opinion and every action – and that’s usually not much of a problem because everyone is entitled to his and her own thoughts. Sometimes it’s just a matter of talking to and convincing those who oppose your views that they are misinformed and your information and opinions are correct. The proof, they say, is usually in the pudding; facts and real-time data, combined with human intelligence and common understanding often resolve the issue at hand and everyone walks away happy. But that’s not always the case. When trusts have been broken and words of apparent sincerity not kept, it doesn’t matter what is presented, it will not be believed. The fact that nearly 10 years of mistrust, combined with several underhanded tactics from the former Conservative government, particularly in Canada but also in Alberta, has deepened suspicions and created cracks where there should be closure. One thing is certain; infighting and combative words have been the order of the day for far too long as one government after another pits Indigenous peoples against one another with labels, innuendo and rhetoric that demeans, chastises and creates mistrust. 

Instead of biting at the hook, maybe it is time for those Nations and individuals who are both for and against pipeline development in Canada to sit down at the same table and come together with a plan that can make all parties happy.

Trust is everything, so it isn’t difficult to understand that when it comes to Indigenous Canadians and communities, there is very little trust, especially when government or entities supporting government are involved. The last bit of trust that many First Nations had for government was in 2005 when Paul Martin’s federal Liberal Party was within days of signing the very important Kelowna Accord, only to see that goal squashed when Harper’s newly elected Conservatives came to power.  The game-changing document that sought to improve the education, employment, and living conditions for Aboriginal peoples through governmental funding and other programs never saw the light of day and Harper went on to ignore and even compromise whatever trust had been built during Martin’s term in office.

Promises made by Harper’s regime were never kept; apologies offered were insincere and the word of government was little more than a joke, a bad joke that created more disgust and distrust between Indigenous Canadians and government than ever before.

But that distrust goes a step further today because the two opposing sides to the issues related to pipelines and oil are both Indigenous; those totally opposed to oil and gas expansion in or across their territories and those communities already benefitting from oil and gas agreements. To date there is little common understanding between the two factions, but hope springs eternal.

Stephen Buffalo, the head of the Indian Resource Council, knows that oil and gas partnerships help to pay the bills, save for the future and generate funds that can improve everything from employment opportunities to funding new and much-needed infrastructure. He said he supports those Nations who do not want to see their lands developed, but also notes that creating economic opportunities also creates employment.

“As Indigenous peoples,” he said last month, “we’ve always been consumers of goods and services, not producers of goods and services. We need to fit into that chain somewhere. That’s wealth creation, that’s job creation. We will make sure that things are done right to protect Mother Earth, but we need a revenue stream too.”

There are many First Nations in Canada that have partnerships with oil and gas-related industries; there have been very few spills and even fewer serious spills in these participating communities over the last decade and more. In fact, poorly maintained train tracks have caused more toxic oil and chemical spills and serious incidents than anything else. And they are still running across the country and with very little opposition.

Treaty Alliance members come mainly from British Columbia and Quebec, two provinces that choose to generate power by building dams and flooding river valleys; their position is understandable but the fact that they insist that Alberta shut down its oil sands development, is not.

Somewhere within the various arguments brought forth by the two sides of the pipeline debate there surely has to be an out, one that can create benefits for all parties and one that can ensure that before development begins, there is a consensus of what it will take to ensure that the environment receives the protection it needs. It might be a steep hill to climb, but it’s time to utilize common sense, and good will and realize that fighting with government is one thing, but fighting with brothers and sisters is quite another. It is time to quit the bickering. It is time to sit down together and iron out a few policies that will benefit every Indigenous community with opportunities that ensure a healthy environment while at the same time creating growth and allowing all Nations to benefit through economic development opportunities.






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