Young pipeliners leading the way to support Indigenous reconciliation

“The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow.” – Nelson Mandela.

That quote provides a lot of hope for the future, especially when you hear what young professionals in the pipeline industry are up to.

The Young Pipeliners Association of Canada (YPAC) is building the next generation of pipeline industry leaders. And they are already leading by example in many areas, including Indigenous reconciliation.


Building bridges


YPAC recently launched its Indigenous Inclusion Committee, which aims to drive inclusion and reconciliation within the pipeline industry.

At the helm are co-chairs Matt Thomas and Kaella-Marie Earle—two passionate and intelligent professionals with a lofty goal: To build bridges between Indigenous communities and the energy industry.

Earle is Anishinaabe (Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi) from Wiikwemkoong and Aroland First Nations in Northern Ontario, and once called herself an anti-pipeline activist. She says she organized large demonstrations and even participated in Al Gore’s “Climate Reality” training. An internship led her to the energy industry.

“The internship changed my world completely in terms of what I thought about energy,” said Earle.

Now a proud employee of one of Canada’s largest pipeline companies, she says it’s time to bring the two sides closer together.

“There’s an opportunity to really move forward on goals that we both have,” said Earle. “Everyone wants a good energy future and that’s something we can focus on.”


First step: Learning about Indigenous culture and values


In November, the committee took its first steps by participating in an educational session led by three respected facilitators. YPAC leadership explored Indigenous world views, traditional knowledge, belief systems, culture, history and traditions.

“It was really powerful to bring the group together,” said Thomas.  “A lot of our initial strategy has been around discovery and knowledge building within YPAC and within ourselves.”

In a summary Thomas wrote following the session, he talked about his own personal journey towards Indigenous reconciliation as a Canadian.

“As I look forward, I have a responsibility to learn more about First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples and develop a respectful relationship with them as a non-Indigenous settler in Canada,” Thomas wrote. “I will continue to be a genuine ally of Indigenous peoples and encourage others to be a positive change and focus on Indigenous inclusion and reconciliation.”

Thomas says the session was just the beginning of a process that will ultimately guide the development of policies and programs at YPAC.


Shaping federal policies


But the influence of these young pipeliners is already extending far beyond the internal policies at YPAC. Earle is also one of nine Indigenous leaders from across Canada who are guiding the development of key federal policies through the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada’s Indigenous Advisory Committee. The committee provides advice to the agency, which deals with federally regulated infrastructure projects.

“There is a huge focus on reconciliation,” said Earle. “How do we include Indigenous peoples in federally-regulated projects in a meaningful way.”


Ripple effect


Earle and Thomas say the work they are doing is already leading to meaningful change by fostering a deeper respect and understanding for Indigenous culture, history and knowledge. And they say it’s just the beginning.

“There’s going to be a ripple effect,” said Earle. “All the people who are involved with YPAC are the leaders of oil and gas tomorrow, and so if this is the way we are shaping ourselves, imagine the amazing things that will come in industry because of that.”