Why conversations between Aboriginal communities and pipeline companies matter

If you follow the news, you know that some Aboriginal communities are very concerned about the impact of pipeline projects on their land and livelihood. Their concerns deserve to be heard.

“We want to have meaningful conversations; we want to have a dialogue. There’s a need to build trust with First Nations,” said Matthew Coon Come, grand chief of the Grand Council of the Crees and an advocate for the rights of Aboriginal Peoples, last week.

Grand Chief Coon Come was speaking in Calgary as part of a panel discussion on new energy infrastructure.

“We need a process where people who are for and people who are against (a project) can sit down and have a meaningful conversation,” he said at the Canadian Energy Summit & WEC North America Region Energy Forum.

Brenda Kenny, CEPA’s former president and CEO, was part of the same panel and agreed with Grand Chief Coon Come about the need for collaboration. During her presentation, Kenny stressed that every Canadian should be part of the discussion on how Canada develops and uses its resources.

“I believe our energy pathway needs to include more consultation,” she said definitively.

Why Aboriginal input matters

In Canada, it is ultimately the Crown’s responsibility to consult with Aboriginal groups on proposed pipeline projects. However, the pipeline industry has a social responsibility to work with Aboriginal Peoples on ways to mitigate the impact of projects. Pipeline companies cannot operate effectively without building long-term relationships with Aboriginal communities.

Building these relationships requires a respectful approach to consultation across the industry. CEPA recently developed a framework (PDF) to guide its members in their consultations with Aboriginal groups.

Here are just a few of the basic principles, outlined in the framework, that CEPA believes are instrumental to creating meaningful conversations:

  • Recognition of Aboriginal and treaty rights: Aboriginal rights must be respected
  • Consultation must be meaningful and requires a genuine attempt to address interests and concerns
  • Consultation must be undertaken in a timely manner and as early in the decision/planning process as possible
  • Identification of impacts accompanied with the development of appropriate mitigation plans: impacts must be minimized

These principles all have one common thread: respect.

It’s about communication: sitting across the table and talking.

Relationships between Aboriginal communities and pipeline companies can be mutually beneficial. In fact, there are examples of this happening right now across Canada. Benefits for Aboriginal communities can include jobs, economic development and training. Benefits for pipeline companies can include learning traditional knowledge, improved planning and the social license to operate.

The only way to build these relationships is to set differences aside and to work together on pragmatic solutions for the future of energy infrastructure.

In his presentation, Grand Chief Coon Come got it right when he said, “It’s about communication: sitting across the table and talking.”

Learn more about the importance of relationships between pipeline companies and Aboriginal communities:

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 115,000 kilometres of pipelines in Canada. In 2012, these energy highways moved approximately 1.2 billion barrels of liquid petroleum products and 5.1 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.