Canadians view natural resources as an important pathway to Indigenous economic development: new poll

Western Canadians lead the country in understanding the importance of responsible resources for Indigenous economic development. But more work is needed to tell the story of how Canadian natural resource and energy companies have transformed partnerships with Indigenous communities.

A newly released Ipsos poll conducted on behalf of Resource Works and the Indigenous Partnership Success Showcase (IPSS) demonstrated that 70% of Canadians believe natural resource development is a good way for Indigenous communities to create skilled and well-paying jobs, and 72% believe it can provide financial benefits to Indigenous communities.

On May 28 and June 4, IPSS will bring together Indigenous, industry and government leaders for a virtual conference to discuss resource and economic reconciliation. Building on nation-wide dialogue on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, this two-day event will delve into a range of important topics from renewable energy to advancing Indigenous businesses in Canada and serve as a launching point for partnerships key to Canada’s future.

According to the new poll, most Canadians think natural resource development can provide economic and employment benefits to Indigenous communities:

  • Seven-in-ten (72%) Canadians agree that ‘natural resource development is a good way for Indigenous communities to reduce poverty and build economic independence.’ Only about one in ten disagree (12%), and 17% are undecided.
  • Seven-in-ten (70%) Canadians also agree that ‘natural resource development is a good way for Indigenous communities to create skilled and well-paying jobs.’ Only about one in ten (12%) disagree, and 18% are undecided.

However, most Canadians recognize that Indigenous communities need help from government to access the capital required to take advantage of natural resource development opportunities. Slightly more than six-in-ten (62%) Canadians agree that ‘governments need to ensure that Indigenous communities have access to capital so they can invest in natural resource development on their territories.’ Two in ten (19%) disagree with this idea, and two in ten (19%) are undecided.

The poll also reveals that Canadians do not give governments or natural resource companies great marks for the consultation/engagement taking place with Indigenous communities today, although many are unsure how to evaluate these relationships. Nevertheless, Canadians believe there has been significant improvement in the consultation/engagement taking place over the past 10-20 years. Yet they are more split when it comes to their opinions about Indigenous communities having full power over decisions about their territories, and many Canadians say they are not sure what is the truth when it comes to the issues of Indigenous communities and natural resource development.

What is clear to any natural resource industry watcher is that the last decade has been transformative. Indigenous communities have taken an active role in partnering with industry, developing businesses and opportunities to create local benefit. Natural resource companies have charted a new path to consultation and engagement with Indigenous peoples, especially in the energy sector. 

Several major projects have demonstrated the extensive Indigenous engagement and consultation commitments undertaken in recent years by industry, especially in pre-planning.

For instance, Coastal GasLink received the support of all the elected First Nations governments in the 20 communities on the route. Similarly, the Trans Mountain Expansion Project saw a consultation process initiated by the federal government that invited the participation of 129 Indigenous groups potentially impacted by the Project and, in the end, more than 120 either support it or do not oppose it.

In the case of Woodfibre LNG near Squamish BC, the Squamish First Nation signed a benefits agreement valued at $1.1 billion, including millions in cash and contracts, 422 hectares of land, and employment provisions for Squamish members. The agreement also includes an option for the Squamish to take a 5% equity stake in the project. Further, in a Canadian first, the Squamish First Nation conducted its own environmental assessment for the Woodfibre LNG project and came up with 25 conditions — all of which the proponent agreed to. 

But there is still considerable work ahead to communicate this track record and ensure that Canadians understand its significance — not only to the well-being of Indigenous communities but also to Canada's future prosperity.

Canada is a global leader in the development of natural resources. Close collaboration with First Nations, Inuit, and Metis communities, respect for rights holders, and shared prosperity are hallmarks of our country's leading approach. As the federal Parliament considers national legislation to adopt UNDRIP, which is widely expected to pass as it heads to a 3rd reading before the Senate, these facts — and the opportunities for further partnership and mutual benefit — must be shared.

While Western Canada leads the country today in grasping the significance of these trends for Indigenous communities, it is clear that Indigenous economic development as a topic remains quite new for many Canadians. Resource Works looks forward to continuing to amplify leading Canadian voices and perspectives on economic reconciliation.

To learn more about these issues, be sure to attend the Indigenous Partnerships Success Showcase, May 28th and June 4th.

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