Lawrence Solomon: The natives’ tools

(October 2, 2015) Environmentalists serve native interests well, by extracting maximum profits out of resource developments.

This article, by Lawrence Solomon, first appeared in the National Post

Calvin Helin, chairman and president of Eagle Spirit Holdings. Ben Nelms for National Post.

Calvin Helin, chairman and president of Eagle Spirit Holdings. Ben Nelms for National Post.

In a predictable display of stakeholder democracy and sustainable development, native leaders, environmentalists, governments and industry all participated in a historic breakthrough this week – an agreement to build a pipeline carrying tar sands oil from Alberta through the Rockies and the British Columbia interior to the Pacific Ocean, from where tankers will deliver the oil to China and beyond. In this $15-billion pipeline play, the parties to the agreement committed to the creation of an energy corridor that would also transport natural gas to an LNG terminal on the coast.

All the stakeholders played their prescribed part in this megaproject. The natives and the corporate leaders spent years in hard-bargaining, eliminating roadblocks through patient negotiations that obtained buy-ins from the many native bands along the route. The government provided the financial concessions needed to secure the development and jobs it invariably touts. And the environmentalists played the role of fools.

This 1.1 million-barrel-a-day oil pipeline and LNG complex – proposed by native-run Eagle Spirit Energy – could morph into an even bigger industrial development. The company is also contemplating multi-billion investments in an upgrader or refinery, in a power transmission line and in marine terminal port development to leverage the opportunities in its energy corridor. “The energy corridor pipeline will not only benefit many First Nation communities, but will benefit the economies of B.C. and all of Canada,” enthused Hereditary Chief Alex Campbell, whose Lax Kw’alaams First Nation is located near the proposed marine terminal in the Prince Rupert area.

Campbell’s First Nation, like all the First Nations along the 1100-kilometre proposed pipeline, have equity shares in the enterprise, which promises a plethora of direct and indirect benefits. As explained in a letter signed Wednesday by 17 Indian chiefs and 48 tribal leaders to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, B.C. Premier Christy Clark, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, “Eagle Spirit’s proposal fairly compensates First Nations for the risks posed to our traditional territories through meaningful revenue generation, business, employment, education, training and capacity building opportunities promoting economic self-sufficiency for our communities and their members.”

The great benefits that are now expected to flow to these native communities, to the oil and gas industry and to Canadian society as a whole couldn’t have happened were it not for the one group that’s spitting mad over the deal – the environmental NGOs.

Natives, environmentalists are slow to learn, like progress just as other humans do.

Believing native claims that “Literally no First Nation on the coast is in favour of Eagle Spirit” and thus thinking they had allies in the native community in their battle against pipelines, the tar sands and industrial development generally, environmentalists rallied the public against energy developments. To their chagrin, all they were actually doing was forcing governments and industry to make ever greater concessions. Once those concessions were maximized, and natives felt confident that they had secured for themselves the best possible deal, they did what they almost always do – looked after their own best interests by signing on the bottom line.  Environmentalists, no longer needed, were then invited to take a hike.

The story was similar with the Tsawwassen First Nation, castigated for converting prime farmland near Vancouver into shopping malls and port development. And with Clayoquot Sound, where environmentalists who fought side by side with natives against the private lumber multinationals felt betrayed when logging of ancient temperate rainforests continued after ownership became vested in native-owned Iisaak Forest Resource Ltd. And with the James Bay hydroelectric project in Quebec, where the Crees in 2002 signed “The Peace of the Braves,” a 50-year, $3.5-billion deal with the Quebec government that saw them jointly manage mining, logging and hydroelectric development. Environmentalists, who fought against the project alongside the natives for decades, called the deal a sellout. The Cree called it progress, and events are proving them correct — unlike many native communities that are debased and in despair, the Cree culture is intact and thriving, living longer and growing their population along with their economy.

Natives, environmentalists are slow to learn, like progress just as other humans do, and they dislike the paternalism that environmentalists so often display. “The last thing we need is environmental organizations dictating how we should steward the traditional territories we have already protected for the last 10,000 years,” said Elder George Bryant, commenting on attempts by environmentalists to dictate the fate of the Eagle Spirit pipeline project.

The usefulness of environmentalists to Eagle Spirit hasn’t ended, though, because it faces stiff competition from any number of alternate energy and pipeline proposals. Understandably, the native chiefs who endorse their own project adamantly oppose all others: “our foremost concern remains protection of the environment,” the chiefs told Harper and the Western premiers. “For this reason, we have and continue to steadfastly oppose all other oil pipeline proposals.”

The alliance between the environmental groups and the natives will thus remain as strong and steadfast, and serve, as ever, the natives.

Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe. Email:

About Lawrence Solomon

Lawrence Solomon is one of Canada's leading environmentalists. His book, The Conserver Solution (Doubleday) popularized the Conserver Society concept in the late 1970s and became the manual for those interested in incorporating environmental factors into economic life. An advisor to President Jimmy Carter's Task Force on the Global Environment (the Global 2000 Report) in the late 1970's, he has since been at the forefront of movements to reform foreign aid, stop nuclear power expansion and adopt toll roads. Mr. Solomon is a founder and managing director of Energy Probe Research Foundation and the executive director of its Energy Probe and Urban Renaissance Institute divisions. He has been a columnist for The Globe and Mail, a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, the editor and publisher of the award-winning The Next City magazine, and the author or co-author of seven books, most recently The Deniers, a #1 environmental best-seller in both Canada and the U.S. .
This entry was posted in Energy Probe News, Fossil Fuels, Liquified Natural Gas, Pipelines, Tar Sands and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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