A defining feature of Canada’s spirited energy debate is environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) working closely with various interests to help amplify their perspectives.
Among these are select groups from Canada’s Aboriginal communities, many of which industry has engaged to discuss concerns and find ways to share in the economic and social benefits of resource development. To some, it may even appear ENGOs have been more effective than either industry or politicians at persuading Aboriginal Peoples to join their causes.
This is particularly the case of oil sands, where Aboriginal communities are concerned about the pace and scale of development, as well as its impacts, such as encroachment on traditional lands and potential health risks from affected air and water. ENGOs highlight these concerns in arguments against oil sands development.
ENGOs and some Aboriginal communities collaborate because, at heart, they share similar perspectives. ENGOs want to protect the environment and see resource development halted or staged in a gradual manner to limit impacts. Aboriginal Peoples also want to limit development’s impact on the environment and communities where developers operate.
With their unique constitutional and legal status in Canada, Aboriginal Peoples also offer ENGOs something almost unique: a highly-motivated, political constituency which regularly consults and collaborates with industry and government and can initiate legal challenges when they feel their protected rights are violated. Moreover, whether in protests or celebrity appearances, Aboriginal Peoples’ participation makes for compelling, emotional content for traditional and social media alike.
There is a lot of mistrust in the debate around energy development. Some participants regard ENGO-First Nations alliances suspiciously and are unconvinced of their legitimacy. They see some alliances as convenient, opportunistic arrangements which lack authenticity. They point to the huge differences between typical ENGO staffers and Aboriginal Peoples when it comes to education, skills, lifestyles and economic circumstances. Some others feel industry is 'buying' Aboriginal Peoples’ backing through promises of money and prosperity only to permanently vacate their communities once the required support is secured.
At Suncor, we are committed to working closely with our stakeholders to build and maintain effective, long-term and mutually beneficial relationships. Working with Aboriginal Peoples means recognizing their unique legal and constitutional rights while pursuing opportunities to increase their capability to participate in development and share in our success. Working with ENGOs involves building understanding so we can move closer to a common place where we can build our collective energy future.
Given Canada’s and the world’s daunting energy challenges we need to ensure we take every opportunity to engage in open, honest and authentic conversations, recognizing we all have voices which need to be heard.