Less than two weeks after First Nations formed an alliance to stop the construction of oil pipelines, several other First Nations are gathering to discuss how to encourage the oil industry.
Chiefs representing oil and gas First Nations are talking about reconciling traditional values and energy development during the two-day conference in downtown Calgary.
"This thing is not going to go away. We have a dilemma of course," said Chief Charles Weasel Head with the Kainai First Nation in Southern Alberta. "We have opposing views on oilsands development, pipeline construction, tidewater access for oil to reach world markets."
'We're going to work through this. Be patient, it can happen' - Perry Bellegarde, AFN national chief
Proponents suggest the oil and gas industry can improve the quality of life for First Nations and lead to financial independence. First Nations are pushing for an equity stake in pipeline projects as one way to capitalize on the opportunities the oil and gas sector provides.
"What people have to understand is First Nations people are getting poorer and they have been getting poorer for the last 20 years," said Blaine Favel, chancellor of the University of Saskatchewan and chair of the conference.
"The energy industry has allowed our people a ladder to employment, to partnerships," he said. "We have to balance our concern for the protection of Mother Earth and our opportunity to protect our children and relatives that need to work today."
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Oil and gas executives along with provincial government representatives are taking part, although the federal government is not involved beyond being a sponsor. Organizers repeatedly expressed their disappointment there was no response from the Prime Minister's Office.
Weighing the concerns and benefits
Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, admits it will be tough to find common ground among Indigenous communities when it comes to major pipeline projects, but it's possible.
"There will be spills, but how do you mitigate that? Can you quickly stop it so it has very little impact on land and water? That's the fear," he said in his speech. "We're going to work through this. Be patient, it can happen."
'We will make sure things are done right to protect Mother Earth, but we need a revenue stream too' - Stephen Buffalo, Indian Resource Council
He supports the right of First Nations to say no to development on their land. He gave credit to the conference organizers for having the courage to voice their support for the oil and gas industry since there will be backlash from other Indigenous groups who oppose new pipelines. The economic benefits of working with all types of industries can't be understated, he said.
"As Indigenous peoples we've always been consumers of goods and services, not producers of goods and services. We need to fit into that chain somewhere. That's wealth creation, that's job creation."
Last month, 50 First Nations in North America signed the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion. They oppose tanker and rail proposals in both countries, including pipeline projects proposed by Kinder Morgan Inc., TransCanada Corp. and Enbridge Inc.
"The debate is extremely polarized," said Stephen Buffalo, chief executive of the Indian Resource Council. "We will make sure things are done right to protect Mother Earth, but we need a revenue stream too."