Outreach: Reconciliation is in the air

The Alliance’s third outreach session on 29 July 2021 drew participants from BC and Alberta, and focused on local governments’ roles in economic reconciliation with First Nations.

Here are condensed remarks from Mayor Dale Bumstead of Dawson Creek BC, himself a member of the Métis Nation, and Councillor Charlie Rensby of Burns Lake BC:

Mayor Bumstead

As I travelled around to the (First Nations) communities in northern BC it was evident to me that there are some common strategic pillars that we work together on, building communities:  healthcare, education, economic opportunities.

And so, as a first step, we signed a memorandum of understanding with the Saulteau First Nations, to work together collaboratively, moving forward as communities on those three pillars. And it has been very successful, and we see the benefits of that. To me, it really is built on that foundation of dialogue, that foundation of trust. That’s how we move forward.

Resource development is important to us. But not at all costs. And we need to build that together, with that common understanding.

Economic reconciliation starts from the foundation of let’s work together as communities, to understand each other’s futures, and what’s important for us in building relationships of reconciliation

Councillor Rensby

Economic reconciliation is a part of the larger reconciliation process. A really big piece of that is to make sure that we have the common ability to support reconciliation going forward. We very much have to look at what we have in common; We all want to go to work. We all want to support our families and be proud of what we have; just look at our commonalities there. Also, on things like the environment, things we can do for responsible resource development, working together.

The experience of working together on economic reconciliation will also set the tone for how the rest of the reconciliation process moves forward. We have to ensure that sure First Nations have the ability to stand on their own, to be independent, and to be proud of what they have, and not have to be subservient to anyone with purse strings.

The most crucial piece of this, though, is that economic reconciliation leads to the rest of this. It leads to the discussions of what has happened in the past, what can we do better for the future, what can we do to make amends. We also need the ability to rejuvenate our local Indigenous cultures. A lot of the cultures have just been decimated.

Economic reconciliation gives people the ability to feel proud enough to stand up, and the ability to learn and teach people about their culture in the community. Everyone knows so much about white folks, but we know so little about our Indigenous neighbours. With education we can get to a better form of reconciliation. I’m fully committed to that in my community.

The recent discoveries (of children’s graves at residential school sites) is creating a time that we can actually move forward on this. People can’t deny what happened any more. There’s proof, there’s evidence, not just some story that they heard. It’s true. So we can use this as a watershed moment, and say ‘Listen, we are all human. We need to show empathy for each other. And we need to move forward together.’

And the Number One way to do that is economic reconciliation, so people have the ability to fund those future projects and support themselves.

Moderator Karen Ogen-Toews, CEO of our Alliance

I think this is a really critical question, not only for the municipalities but also for the province and also for Canada. It’s everyone’s responsibility to promote economic reconciliation. It’s really critical that municipalities and regional districts work hand in hand with the Indigenous people on the ground. We need to level the playing field. Economic reconciliation is when we no longer have poverty within our communities, when we all have clean drinking water, when we have good housing, and we have good education, and good health outcomes for our people. Then we can truly say we’ve achieved economic reconciliation. Reconciliation is in the air. If Canada and the provinces and the municipalities aren’t getting it, it’s time to get it now.

  • Question: What about the impact of LNG on your communities?

Charlie Rensby

It’s more or less that LNG found the cracks in our networks. We’ve been struggling with housing, and the labour pool, and issues like that, and LNG exacerbated those cracks. But the biggest thing is the amount of benefit we’ve been able to see. They are really good people to have around. They’re helping our small businesses, especially through this pandemic. They’re creating economic opportunities for people, especially First Nations. Burns Lake Native Logging has  a whole bunch of contracts; their workforce has almost doubled in the time that LNG has come to town.

So we’ve seen a whole lot of people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, finding those jobs in the community. This has brought economic activity to our area that we could never have dreamed of, and never would have been able to get here, creating permanent jobs and infrastructure that we can use to support our communities.

Dale Bumstead

The natural-gas sector has been a major influence on our economy now for 50 or 60 years. (LNG development that relies on the gas) has been very positive. Processing the gas and natural-gas liquids has required the industry to build a huge number of processing plants in and around Dawson Creek. In the last 15 years there’s probably been upwards of 20 or 30 of those processing facilities. Three or four years ago, Encana (Ovintiv now) built three processing facilities, for a capital investment of $2.5 billion.

Every year, each of these companies has significant operational and capital budgets that are spending money in the region, that are creating jobs, building these facilities and pipelines. It spins into our economy. You can’t spend $2,5 billion within 20 minutes of the community without it impacting our service sector. So that’s been very, very positive.

The other piece that it has brought has been full-time, long-term positions: power engineers, control-room operators, all of the service sector, which create great jobs and long-term jobs. That’s been extremely beneficial to us. On the negative side, there has been  intrusion on (agricultural)  land. The industry has really tried to minimize the impact. The spin-off for our community is that it’s a very, very positive industry for our community in creating great, long-term employment.

Karen Ogen-Toews

One of the things that I see is the companies trying to deal with some of the local First Nations, doing their due diligence and making sure that they mitigate any issues on the ground. So it would be helpful, for any of the negative impacts happening in your area, to approach the companies and let them know. If housing is an issue, how can they help mitigate that? If the labour pool is an issue, how can they help mitigate that? Keep that dialogue going.

Dale Bumstead

Industry have been very, very proactive in terms of trying to mitigate some of those impacts, such as light and noise, and traffic; all of those things that can impact rural landowners. They’ve been very, very proactive in ensuring they work with the community and the landowners to ensure that they try to mitigate the impact on them. They’ve been very good.

Karen Ogen-Toews

Look at the big picture: There are existing pipelines that went into the ground, in the 1950s, without consultation with or accommodation of the First Nations. Think about the number of court cases First Nations had against the province. We continue to win court cases.

It remains to be seen how we’re going to continue to make the playing field level for everyone, especially for Indigenous people. We try to take what negative impacts there are and turn them into positives so everybody wins. As we bring our concerns to their attention, the developers do their utmost to mitigate them, and that’s the positive thing that we look at.

  • Question: How do Canada and BC best achieve economic reconciliation with First Nations people?

Dale Bumstead

To me what the province has to do and what the federal government has to do in the permitting process (the regulatory approval process for a pipeline or LNG or oil-gas project) is commit to a local spend; commit to a financial contribution, a financial obligation, to our First Nations Indigenous businesses. To ensure that those businesses get opportunities to providing the work as those projects are going through. And to our local communities, a local spend on those projects.

Charlie Rensby

I echo what Mayor Dale said. The federal and provincial governments need to start practising what they love preaching so much. When it comes down to going through the actual process of reconciliation, they always seem to just play politics and drop the ball. They need to start actually doing things, putting concrete actions into motion.

Dale Bumstead

We need certainty for the investment of capital. It’s so difficult  today, in every sector, in the mining sector, the forest sector, the energy sector. We have to find a better way in that that whole aspect of permitting and environmental assessments. It shouldn’t be taking 10 or 15 years to get to a position of certainty for an investment. That’s the piece I worry about most today.

  • Question: ‘What future plans toward reconciliation has your community and local government got in mind?

Dale Bumstead

First of all, I refuse to refer to them as ‘residential schools.’ Schools are a place that we send our children to, a safe place to learn. These were not safe places. They were internment camps or prisons. By referring to them as schools, we continue to soften the message. For me, as the mayor of our community, I believe that’s an important statement to make.

How is it possible that we didn’t know? In my education and the school system I never learned about the history of First Nations neighbours, and their communities. How come I didn’t learn about the arts, the culture, of First Nations? How is it possible that residential schools were never a piece of that?  How do I now start to move forward and understand the arts, the culture, the language, of my neighbours?

I was just at a meeting with the Treaty 8 chiefs, and sought their permission: I want to hold a major event in Dawson Creek, a pow-wow, a Tea Dance, play some traditional hand games and promote the arts and culture of our First nations neighbours. It’s a way for us for us to engage and learn. I want to invite all of our (First Nations) neighbours from northern British Columbia, so we start to engage and we don’t feel that awkwardness about engaging

Charlie Rensby

Burns Lake is somewhat unique. As well as having six First Nations in the surrounding areas we have two reserves within municipal limits. We’re really in the beginning stages of reconciliation. Over the last 10 to 15 years there’s really been an effort in building these relationships, and that is so crucial.

Beyond that foundation of trust, we also have a foundation of ‘We’re all in the same boat together.’ Because we are; we all drink the same water , we all go to the same place for groceries. We had been applying for a water-treatment centre for a number of years and we were always turned down for a grant. Finally, we applied for a grant in conjunction with the Burns Lake Band and the Lake Babine Nation. And, sure enough, our multi-million-dollar project got approved. That goes to show what has to happen.

When it comes to arts and culture, we’re looking to the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology to come to town and start up a campus. It has First Nations culture integrated right into the school programming. Through that, Indigenous and non-Indigenous people will go through the same school system, and learn about the culture and have that mutual respect going forward.

We’re currently planning community-to-community forums between all the different First Nations in our area. We’re also looking at different ways our municipality can support our local First Nations and see what we can do to help facilitate more reconciliation. And we want to work with our First Nations neighbours to build a permanent memorial for residential-school victims.

Dale Bumstead

We signed that MoU with the Saulteau First Nations, and developed some partnerships with them and our local businesses, creating opportunities around land development, property development, and other economic opportunities.

We have a major event coming up in two weeks, our rodeo (the Dawson Creek Exhibition & Stampede). With that, we’re co-hosting an event with the Saulteau. We’re inviting all of our industry and business partners in Calgary and in the South Peace region. And we’ll co-host that with our First Nations: Saulteau, Doig River, Blueberry River, West Moberley, Fort Nelson. Prophet River. That will connect local businesses and First Nations with the Calgary sector who are here building the processing plants and building the pipelines. We’ll also have the mining sector there.

Karen Ogen-Toews

Those unmarked graves should be on everyone’s front burner. Those unmarked graves were discussed in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  As we speak, there are more unmarked graves being found. Canada can do better. The provinces can do better. The municipalities can do better. We can do better. There is no reconciliation without truth.

Prize winners
A random draw selected the following prize winners from the audience: $50 and an orange T-shirt: Laura Yerex (who promptly donated the money to charity); $75, Ellen Lorentz; and $100: Sheila Sharp.

And an invitation

Organizer Lisa Mueller invited anyone interested in participation in future sessions to email outreach@fnlngalliance.com. And she noted that our next session will be on Sept. 22, 2021.

(Posted here 01 August 2021)

First Nations LNG Alliance Newsletter