Finding the ‘delicate balance’ between resource projects and Indigenous interests

Chiefs and executives partake in interactive Line 3 project panel discussion

“Relationships often start out on the opposite ends of the spectrum.”

The comment was made by Sheldon Wuttunee, moderator of an interactive Enbridge panel discussion at the National Coalition of Chiefs (NCC) Energy and Natural Resource Summit at the Tsuut’ina Nation in Calgary on Nov. 4.

Chiefs Nathan Pasap (White Bear First Nation) and Glenn Hudson (Peguis First Nation) shared the stage with Enbridge vice presidents (Leo Golden, Line 3 Project Execution and Rob Watson, Supply Chain Management), focusing their remarks on successes and lessons learned from the Line 3 Replacement Program (L3RP) in Canada and answering questions from the audience, which included more than 60 pro-development Chiefs and Métis leaders from across Canada, elected officials and business leaders.

Wuttunee, President and CEO of the Saskatchewan First Nations Natural Resource Centre of Excellence, was speaking about the “delicate balance” in finding common ground among Indigenous communities and resource development project proponents like Enbridge.

It’s a topic he knows from first-hand experience. In 2008, as Chief of Red Pheasant Cree Nation near North Battleford, he played an integral role in a blockade that saw teepees erected in the path of Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper pipeline construction and a demonstration on horseback through the town of Kerrobert.

“We learned from that,” Wuttunee says. “I can say now that our relationship with Enbridge has progressed through understanding. It was building that respect and understanding and asking, ‘How do we move forward? What do we need to change? What do you need to change?’ and coming together to provide those answers. We need support to build capacity in our communities but that doesn’t come by putting our membership, our spirituality, or our traditions to the wayside. We have to find a way to balance that somehow and that takes everybody, not just you, and not just us.”

Enbridge’s Leo Golden echoed those comments and, along with Rob Watson, provided insight into Enbridge’s thinking at the outset of the project. “People in our industry are just like people everywhere,” Golden said. “You tend to default to the way you’ve done things, that’s what’s comfortable, that’s what people know how to do.”

But with the L3RP, he said, “a key was setting very clear expectations that what we’ve always done was not going to be good enough, we’re going to do something different.”

That mindset resulted in strong Indigenous inclusion and participation on the L3RP, including more than 1,100 Indigenous workers earning wages of more than $120 million and $450 million in spending on Indigenous labour and contracting.

Chief Hudson also spoke about the importance of two-way communication.

“The important part is to bring those consultations back to the community so they understand what it is we’re engaging in,” he said. “We have done that with Enbridge [with the L3RP]. Some people expressed opposition initially, but after those consultations and after their engagement in terms of participating it was very much minimized.”

Elders took part in tours of the project, both before, during and after construction which was important to develop understanding, Chief Hudson said, adding that Peguis has created a couple of companies, including a development corporation “utilizing some of our own stores as far as supplying materials and such. So there is a great benefit to it and at the end of the day, people supported it and will continue to do that.”

White Bear First Nation also encountered resistance from band members at the outset of the L3RP, Chief Pasap said, adding, “my motivation for being involved in the project was to build my community up. I have very vocal band members that are very engaged in protest and things like that. I’ve always given them my ear and always had respectful dialogue with them. They may not always have been respectful in their dialogue, but as a Chief, as a leader, you have to have thick skin and make those hard decisions because that’s why people put you there.”

White Bear has also created its own company as well as several joint-venture partnerships with the L3RP. “The big thing is communication,” explained Chief Pasap. “We need to have real conversations and also communication in regards to environmental stewardship and cultural recognition. A company like Enbridge has in their policies a mandate to work with First Nations both north and south of the border and they’ve done that on Line 3, even going forward into future operations.”

(TOP PHOTO: Enbridge panelists, from left, Chief Glenn Hudson, Chief Nathan Pasap, Rob Watson, Sheldon Wuttunee and Leo Golden at the National Coalition of Chiefs (NCC) Energy and Natural Resource Summit on Nov. 4.)