First Nations youth and industry were rubbing shoulders at the Grey Eagle Casino on Tsuut'ina land on Tuesday, discussing resource development on traditional territory.
Stephan Fournier — the associate director of the northern and Aboriginal policy group at the Conference Board of Canada, which organized the conference — said the group felt it was important to allow youth voices to be heard in the ongoing debate.
"I think, as a whole, industry is always looking for ways to better work with Indigenous groups and Indigenous youth," he said.
But the conference isn't just about being pro-development.
"There's also a lot of folks, a lot of youth and a lot of groups who are going to feel that natural resource development is not in their best interest, and that's fine too, and those voices obviously need to be heard, need to be taken seriously and be brought into the conversation in a more meaningful way," said Fournier.
One of the speakers at the event was Chad Day, the 30-year-old president of the Tahltan central government, a First Nation located on northwestern British Columbia.
He said his people have worked hard to ensure they are involved in development decisions on their land.
"We're fortunate in Tahltan territory that we're probably the fourth or fifth generation to embrace industry in our territory," he said. "I say that we're fortunate in that it has provided a lot of opportunities for our people. We've also protected areas."
He said the most important thing for First Nations dealing with development is to build knowledge within the community and to be transparent when sharing information.
"If you communicate openly, honestly, effectively, then you can actually have a good conversation," he said. "From there, it should be up to the people whether they want to embrace a particular project."
Melanie Matchatis from the Cold Lake First Nations was at the conference to learn more, but remains concerned about some of the industrial activities on her people's land.
"Our community needs to be more involved in preserving our lands instead of ruining them. Especially the water," she said, noting there have been spills into ponds and lakes.
"It is concerning that we even have to think about that. We shouldn't have to think about not being able to eat the fish that we catch because it's been contaminated by the oil and the gas."
Fournier said he's not expecting to resolve those kinds of debates over two days of panels and talks.
"We hope to make a meaningful contribution here, with this event, but I'm sure that this conversation is going to go on for quite a while," he said.
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