Involving aboriginal communities in pipeline projects

If pipeline companies want a social license to operate, aboriginal involvement in pipeline projects isn’t a “nice to have,” it’s a “must have.”

That’s why consultation is so important. When building new pipelines, companies work with aboriginal communities to understand and address their interests and concerns.

If aboriginal communities don’t have the resources to deal with consultation requests or face barriers to participating in the economic opportunities of projects, pipeline companies will become involved in something called “capacity building” (PDF).

Essentially, capacity building is when a company strives to understand the challenges that prevent a community from participating in the pipeline process and then works with the community to remove those challenges.

“If aboriginal communities are to be partners, efforts to build capacity to share in the management and delivery of the project create a more meaningful partnership,” said Thom Stubbs, president and principal consultant with Headwater Strategy Group, a consulting company that works with aboriginal communities and pipeline companies to build mutually-beneficial relationships.

Capacity building: Making sure everyone has a seat at the table

Pipeline companies work with government and Aboriginal Peoples on capacity building programs that help communities participate in pipeline consultations and benefit from projects. However, aboriginal communities across Canada are unique and diverse, so capacity building initiatives aren’t one-size-fits-all.

“Defining what issues need to be addressed, and what capacity options the parties see to address them, will enable both the pipeline company and aboriginal community to find capacity efforts that work,” explained Stubbs.

Here are a couple examples of capacity building initiatives:

  • A capacity building program could help secure funding so communities can participate in archaeological, environmental or other studies associated with pipeline consultations.
  • A company could support education and training programs or provide business contract opportunities so communities can benefit economically from a pipeline project.

Pipelines are not short term, neither is capacity building

Pipelines stay in use for a long time (usually many decades), so companies work to develop relationships with communities that are built to last just as long. This is why capacity building is an ongoing commitment that should involve short, intermediate and long-term initiatives.

“Aboriginal communities are the longest-standing communities in Canada,” explained Stubbs.

“A single focus on short-term needs does not respect the longer term vision of aboriginal communities.”

Everyone should be involved and everyone should benefit

Capacity building should benefit everyone involved. For example, by working together with aboriginal communities on training programs, companies gain skilled workers and communities gain employment opportunities.


“The key to mutually beneficial capacity building is shared interests,” Stubbs said. “If a pipeline company is merely seeking to build capacity in the community so the project is permitted faster, then there is not a mutually-beneficial approach being undertaken.”

The bedrock of capacity building needs to be relationships, and those relationships should be built on trust, respect and shared participation in the pipeline process.

“Helping aboriginal communities build individual and/or community capacity provides pipeline companies with partners who have an increased ability to participate with them (throughout the life of a pipeline),” said Stubbs.

Read more about the importance of relationships between aboriginal communities and pipeline companies:

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 115,000 kilometres of pipelines in Canada. In 2013, these energy highways moved approximately 1.2 billion barrels of liquid petroleum products and 5.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Our members transport 97 per cent of Canada’s daily natural gas and onshore crude oil from producing regions to markets throughout North America.