Pipeline perspectives: An aboriginal leader speaks out about trust

The pipeline perspectives blog series features views from pipeline critics and stakeholders who have agreed to share their ideas and concerns with the industry by participating in CEPA’s External Advisory Panel (EAP). Read more about the EAP here.

Keith Matthew

Keith Matthew, former chief of the Simpcw First Nation.

Pipeline companies must earn the trust of aboriginal communities. Aboriginal knowledge of land, forests, water and wildlife can help improve the environmental integrity of pipeline operations, and new pipeline projects need the support of aboriginal communities before they can be built.

But, how can pipeline companies prove to Aboriginal Peoples they are trustworthy?

Keith Matthew, former chief of the Simpcw First Nation (whose traditional territory is primarily located in central B.C.) and a member of CEPA’s External Advisory Panel, shares his thoughts in this Q & A:

Read Matthew’s full bio here.

Q: What does the pipeline industry need to do to earn the trust of Canadians?

A: The pipeline industry needs to clearly explain to Canadians their role as caretakers of the environment through discussions with all people along proposed pipeline routes. To earn the trust of Canadians, they must clearly enunciate what their environmental goals and safety goals are in regards to projects and how they might positively impact people along proposed pipeline routes.

Q: How can the pipeline industry earn the trust of aboriginal communities? 

A: To earn the trust of aboriginal Canadians is much tougher. The messaging must be consistent and clear without any reference to aboriginal people being stakeholders. To aboriginal people, that is code for talking down to their constitutionally protected treaty or aboriginal rights.

Proponents must meet aboriginal people on their turf and on their homelands and have meaningful conversations. These meetings should not be about glossy publications or slick presentations – they need to be about building relationships. Proponents first must listen to aboriginal people and their experiences, whether it directly references pipelines or not. Aboriginal people want to be heard, first and foremost.

Q: Do you believe relationships between aboriginal communities and pipeline companies can be mutually beneficial?

A: Yes, I believe there can be mutually-beneficial relationships between pipeline companies and aboriginal communities.

Q: What conditions need to be in place for these relationships to be built?

A: Mutual respect must be present for this to occur.

Although it is a very tough road to negotiate, pipeline companies are beginning to make arrangements with aboriginal communities on operations and maintenance contracts. This makes sense because of the labour shortage and sometimes the unwillingness of younger people to work outside of their urban situation.

There needs to be patience on the part of the pipeline companies because of the learning and training on the part of the aboriginal community that needs to take place. It can be done but it takes patience on both sides.

Q: What role do you see pipelines playing in Canada’s future? What does the industry need to do in order for that to happen?

A: Pipelines play an integral role in Canada’s economy.

Alberta needs to broaden its appeal to all Canadians. They need to get beyond the fact that there was a failed National Energy Policy and admit there is a need for a broad discussion about energy in all its forms and extend a hand to other people who are diametrically opposed to oilsands.

There needs to be an open conversation between provincial and federal governments and aboriginal communities that looks for new solutions to break the impasse currently in place. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Our aboriginal community (in Canada) has the answers but needs the appropriate audience and a willingness to try something different.

What’s your pipeline perspective?

Tell us what role you think pipelines should play in Canada’s future by visiting letskeepcanadamoving.ca, or share your story on social media using the hashtag #keepCAmoving.

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.