Outreach: Notes, quotes, and issues

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Opportunities and issues, and advice, were aired at our public online Diversity and Inclusion outreach session on 17 June 2021. Here are condensed notes and quotes on LNG and pipeline development and their impact on First Nations in BC:

  • Opening comments:

Karen Ogen-Toews, CEO, First Nations LNG Alliance: “This session this afternoon is to set the tone. It is about employment and training and economic development within our nations in the north. We’re really hoping to capture the First Nations, on the ground, to learn what’s happening to the nations. And to be able to get that information out, first hand, making sure that both government and industry and First Nations are all on the same page, because we want to get it right.”

Trevor Morrison, CEO, Kyah Development Corporation, owned by the Witset First Nation:

The Nations up here, they’re not familiar with pipelines, like the Albertans. . . . We need to build capacity within our First Nations to manage businesses (and) to pursue a lot of these opportunities. With Witset, we have a number of partnerships and businesses to pursue these opportunities with CGL (Coastal GasLink). And we have a relationship with the Haisla First Nation. We collaborate with Crystal Smith and her team. We also have relationships with our neighbouring First Nations as we try not to compete with them.

“We began to work with TC Energy back in 2014. We didn’t have the capacity, so we partnered with Kyah Resources. They were negotiating and doing their work on behalf of the Witset First Nation. Now we are managing the partnership. We have the contract to construct the (pipeline work) camp at Huckleberry. There are other opportunities. Things are going well.

“But issues we are facing (include) delays in getting paid. That has quite the impact on our smaller companies, when they are unable to operate or have to apply for loans to continue operations. The other issue is holdbacks, the 10-per-cent holdbacks on  our contracts. It’s become a burden for some of our partners. Those are things we are trying to negotiate with CGL.

“There is 14-per-cent employment (of First Nations people) for CGL. We want to increase that to 30 per cent.”

Shannon Haizimsque, chief operating officer, Yinka Dene Economic Development, Wet’suwet’en First Nation:

“Our ultimate goal is economic development, building that financial sustainability to support our community and as with any other First Nation, to preserve and protect our government and our culture and our values. . . .

“We have three camps in our area. We have transportation agreements, for transporting employees. . . . At various levels we are involved at every stage, in the procurement opportunities that are out there (and) a lot of environmental work that we’re part of.”

Robin Ewaskow, elected councillor, Blueberry River First Nations: “I got elected in a byelection in January of 2019. Prior to that I was an oil and gas operator in northeastern British Columbia, for Alta Gas. Our nation isn’t actually involved with LNG yet. But we’re hoping to work with LNG and bring that to our community so that we can promote this to our membership and our business members in the oil and gas industry.”

  • On partnerships and joint ventures:

Shannon Haizimsque: “We’ve gone through the gauntlet of business partnerships, relationships. We’ve gone into analyzing who’s a good partner, who’s not a good partner. In BC, the partnership aspect is fairly new in terms of oil and gas. Over the course of the last eight years we’ve going through maybe 40 or so partnerships, and about 32 partnerships and joint ventures still exist today.

“We’re simply trying to find honest people that want to move our people forward. Partnerships and agreements and joint ventures have created benefits for our community, whether that’s revenue-sharing, training, employment, or procurement opportunities. We do have a list of questions when we’re talking to a proponent or a new business. Going through the questions, it comes down to honesty.”

Robin Ewaskow: “Our community primarily goes the route of obtaining partnerships with joint-venture companies in the area. We promote our people through that, and open up opportunities for some of our younger kids who are just graduating from high school, to get into some sort of trade. And we always push to include our community contractors who are service providers in the oil and gas sector.

“We try to really push the relationship between the partners and the community. Doing that, we’re able to fund a little of our infrastructure in our community: paving roads, renovations of homes, public buildings, and stuff like that,

“Some of these partnerships between the nation and these organizations sometimes need more First Nations content in order to move ahead with projects. We have some companies within our community that do have the capacity to take on some of these larger projects. It would be nice if we could take our people to go up there and bring something back to the community.”

Trevor Morrison: “You’ve got to make sure they have similar values. We try utilize BC companies, to partner with BC companies. You’ve got to make sure you do your homework, and research the companies, take a look at their track record. You don’t want to be partnering with somebody that has a known safety record, or are not able to perform the work.  We keep communicating with our partners at least on a monthly basis. The ones that we contract with, probably on a weekly basis. We do have a good relationship with CGL.”

  • Moderator Kim Baird relayed a question from a member of the public watching the online event: “What happens when terms in a partnership agreement aren’t met? How do you enforce any of these targets and commitments if they aren’t met in your partnerships?”

Shannon Haizimsque: “In the past we have severed ties with some companies due to that. With one of them we may even be going through more legal recourse.

“We have to stay on top of things together in building that relationship with them, making sure that we’re very well connected to their HR department, getting updates on opportunities.”

Robin Ewaskow: “We always try to push for transparency and accountability. And if we are in partnership with somebody who may not be as transparent or accountable as we like them to be, and if there are promises made and promises not delivered, then it’s absolutely time to go back to the contract and renegotiate; or sever ties and bring in somebody who is realty going to be there for the community.”

Trevor Morrison: “If they don’t abide by the deal on training and employment it’s pretty much just give them notice that there’s a chance that you’ll terminate that partnership. There are a lot of other companies that want to partner and pursue these opportunities.

“If it’s a company that has a contract with CGL, we’d probably get support from our leadership, and executives within CGL, to have a discussion with that partner on their end. It’s just a matter of communicating. Probably one of the last steps is terminating the contract because they’re not filling their obligations.

“These companies, they screw up a relationship with one First Nation they’re not going to get any work with anybody else. So they’d better not screw up one partnership; it would be bad for their business.”

  • The potential for First Nations taking equity positions in projects

Trevor Morrison: “CGL is offering us a 10-per-cent equity set-aside, to the 20 First Nations (on the Coastal GasLink pipeline route). We’re currently negotiating that. There is a CGL-First Nations Limited Partnership in place, which the First Nations Major Projects Coalition coordinated. So we are negotiating that.

“We’re at the stage right now where we could sign an option agreement, then, at the end of the project, we need to decide whether to invest into the project or not. I think we’d have to invest . . . over $100 million. We’re not clear on how that’s going to look yet.  But that is on the table, a 10-per-cent equity set-aside. They’re trying to include all 20 First Nations but not all of them have signed on. There are only 13 involved with that limited partnership, out of the 20.”

Shannon Haizimsque: “We have five limited partnerships. They are 51-per-cent owned by our community. And we’re establishing another business. It’ll be off the ground probably this fall. We’re moving toward more MOUs.”

  • Another question from the audience: What is the best way for non-First Nations providers and service suppliers to find opportunities to discuss opportunities with First Nations?

 Robin Ewaskow: “It’s very important that, with whoever the nation partners up with, we build a relationship to our community by pushing for employment, training, and various opportunities. And this goes back to the engagement process: What are you willing to bring to the table? How is this going to benefit our people? How is this going to benefit our nation as a whole? It definitely goes back to creating a relationship through the engagement process and seeing what kind of opportunities they can bring to the table.”

Shannon Haizimsque: “I’ve had phone calls, I’ve had cold calls. We’ve had people emailing us regarding opportunities.

“We established a lot of our relationships back in 2012-13-14. Various discussions started back then, and we’ve arrived at our partners based on relationships that were built. And then we add new people coming to the table asking how to get on board to work on the gas line here. It comes in various methods of communication.

“Sometimes we hear from Alberta colleagues: ‘This company has a well established record working with First Nations in the oil and gas industry.’ We get our tips that way as well.”

Trevor Morrison: “First of all, you want to connect with our development corporation. If a band doesn’t have a development corporation, then call the band office. Building a relationship first and foremost. And you can connect with First Nations at conferences; that’s where we connect with a lot of our partners.”

  • Closing remarks:

Robin Ewaskow: “As a First Nations woman in leadership, it is very important that we start to diversify, to open up some different avenues for our people. As elected leaders, we really need to push our young ones to get into some sort of field, when they are right out of high school, so when they get to my age they are set up; they have a plan, they are not stuck, they can build on their opportunities, they can build on their employment through education and training.”

Shannon Haizimsque: “Our Indigenous population represents a wealth of labour which is currently underused. There are so many gaps between the Indigenous population and the non-Indigenous population in Canada. It prevents us from participating in the various projects around Canada. That includes shortage of jobs, lack of quality of education and funding for education; lack of training. We have a lot of inexperienced folks out there. And lack of transportation, lack of digital infrastructure. We have a lot to work for, and a lot to work on.”

Trevor Morrison: “We need to have more women employed with these projects. And this (CGL pipeline construction) project is not always going to be here. Our plan is to build some sustainable businesses, with people certified and ready to pursue other major projects that arise. We are also are pursuing BC Hydro and CN Rail opportunities. We want to be able to have that capacity, and have sustainable business, not only for major projects but for our community. Our plan is to have a grocery store here, a bank, an insurance company and have all of our amenities here.”

Karen Ogen-Toews: “Diversity and inclusion means we all want to be parties at the table. That speaks to gender. That speaks to people of colour. That speaks to people with disabilities. How are we including these folks, whether it be in employment and training or in our realm of work? Those are questions that we must all ask ourselves. It is a responsibility for all of us to be really cognizant of what diversity and inclusion means to us in our Indigenous communities, and for non-Indigenous communities as well.”

Karen also gave a closing shout-out to the Alliance’s outreach team: Lisa Mueller, who works with First Nations in north-central BC; Lynn Parker, northwest nations; and Judy Desjarlais, northeast.

  • Door-prize draw winners: Chris McCue, Travis Mannila, and (first prize of $100) Lorna Clamp.

Lisa Mueller closed the session with a reminder of our Alliance survey on the impact of LNG and pipeline development on First Nations along the Coastal GasLink / LNG Canada route in BC. You could win $100 via ow.ly/t13b50EAb0F

See also: notes and quotes from our outreach session on 17 May 2021

And here is the speakers poster from our June 17 event:

(Posted here 21 June 2021)

First Nations LNG Alliance Newsletter