Picture this: you come home one day to find construction workers digging up your backyard. Your prized petunias are strewn across the lawn. Your carp pond has been drained. And the smell of diesel from the site equipment hangs in the air.
What would be your first emotion? Would you feel generous knowing that your little backyard project has created jobs for a few in need? Or would you feel industrious because the project is making money for the company handling the work? Or perhaps you’d be all altruistic assured your government will spend wisely and fairly the taxes it receives from the construction company.
It’s unlikely you’d experience any of these emotions. Feelings of outrage, insult and violation would more likely be the case.
This backyard scenario may sound far fetched, but it’s exactly why oil sands developers like Suncor take Aboriginal relations so seriously.
We operate on or near traditional Aboriginal lands, meaning that our operations may have impacts on the backyards of thousands of Aboriginal people.
And our obligations go beyond the standard of just good neighbourly conduct. Aboriginal people hold unique rights that recognize them as the first peoples of Canada and affirm a way of life that existed long before Europeans arrived. Responsible energy development means addressing Aboriginal concerns about the impact of oil sands development on land, water and air in their communities.
Business approach, policy provides guidance
At Suncor, we address these concerns using an approach that’s consistent with our view of sustainable development. We strive to develop resources in a way that preserves a healthy environment, respects customs and traditions, promotes social well-being and shares prosperity through Aboriginal partnerships. As we’ve discussed in previous OSQAR posts here and here, sharing the benefits of development with Aboriginal communities is an essential part of our operations.
All of Suncor’s actions are guided by our Aboriginal Relations Policy (PDF) (audio translations of which are now available in the Cree and Dene languages). The policy ensures that we strive to develop and maintain long term and effective relationships, improve communications with Aboriginal communities, understand environmental impacts and share the benefits of development.
In 2011, for example, Suncor spent $290 million in direct purchases from Aboriginal businesses that serve the Wood Buffalo region. All told, we’ve spent $1.9 billion on goods and services from Aboriginal communities since 1992.
The bottom line is that our operations can have impacts beyond our plant gates. While we have business approaches and policies to guide us, what it really comes down to, as soul singer Aretha Franklin knows, is respect. Aboriginal peoples rightly demand it and we work hard to show it.
We’re taking a break
OSQAR will take a break next week to celebrate Canada Day and Independence Day. Look for our next edition the week of July 9