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Land Without Borders, Speech

WRITTEN: September 15, 2002 - AUTHOR:

Presented by Allen Edzerza on behalf of the Kaska Dena Council

Westin, Ottawa

Date: September 15, 2002

It is a pleasure to be with you here in Ottawa today to discuss this dynamic industry and the potential of the North.

I am here to discuss some of the complexities of the northern environment, and I am going to touch on four key topics: the need for a northern agenda for oil and gas, the need for a common regulatory regime, the growing aboriginal workforce, and finally, opportunities for equity and revenue sharing. And, before I finish, I’m going to suggest four simple principles that will help us to work together for mutual benefit.

Land Without Borders

The theme of this conference, “Land without Borders” seems especially appropriate to me. I am here on behalf of the Kaska Dena Council which is part of the Kaska Nation — five First Nations who view and govern themselves as a singlenation. But borders arbitrary boundaries not of our making — divide the traditional territory.

The Kaska traditional territory, which consists of 93,000 square miles of beautiful, rugged, resource-rich land; is divided by the borders of the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and BC.

Kaska territory includes about 10 per cent of B.C., 25 per cent of the Yukon, and it extends into western adjacent parts of the Northwest Territories.

It covers a vast area. But it should come as no surprise to this group that indigenous people are among the largest landholders in the world. In Nunavut, the Inuit control more than 200,000 square miles of land, of which 22,000 square miles include mineral rights. In the Yukon, First Nations control about 16,000 square miles of land, and for two-thirds we hold surface and subsurface rights.

We are willing to share our resources with others throughout Canada and the world but we will do so in a way that favors and fosters long-standing and deeply held values. Values like sharing, respect, and cooperation. And we will do so in a way that will leave a legacy for future generations.

Today, economic development is primarily a political challenge in the North. To create an environment for growth we are well aware that, first and foremost, we must resolve the outstanding land claims that create an uncertain investment climate for business. We are making good progress in this area and we are hopeful that soon, when all land claims are settled, there will be sure and solid footing for sustainable development.

To be successful in our efforts to develop the resources of the North responsibly, we must advocate for a cooperative approach.

A Cooperative Approach

As we survey the horizon, we see many on a quest for the energy of the North. Many who want to do business with us. Many who want to make deals.

The pressure to develop our lands is immense. Right now, that pressure is focussed on two pipelines.

In 1998, almost 25 per cent of the total energy needs of the United States were being met by natural gas, and demand is projected to continue to climb sharply over the next 10 years.

According to one report, by the end of the decade, the Alaska Highway Pipeline and the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline combined will provide, fully, 15 per cent of all new gas supply required to address North America’s growing energy needs.

Yet, we still hear discordant debates challenging the merits of each project.

For the people of the North, these two pipelines have the potential to be a shining opportunity to bring stability to our communities. They also have the potential to become an exercise in futility marred by chaos, confusion and competition.

To seize this moment we must work together — all of us — to determine how northern interests will be addressed.

It will take great will on the part of a great many people. It will take great courage and steadfast determination in the face of uncertainty and change.

Most importantly, it will take cooperation. Cooperation amongst First Nations. Cooperation between First Nations’ governments and public governments. And cooperation between First Nations and industry.

We all need to commit to cooperation, if we are to take full advantage of the opportunities that stand before us.

There is no other workable alternative.

One way we can begin to work together is through conscious consideration of our shared northern agenda.

A Northern Agenda

As discussions about a continental energy policy become louder and longer, one pressing issue, for all of us, becomes the need for a broad northern agenda for oil and gas development. One that is consistent across borders. One that provides for a planned and strategic approach. One that leads to a comprehensive northern energy policy.

The need for a northern agenda becomes increasingly urgent, as the political arena in the North becomes increasingly complex.

Consider the intricate, evolving political terrain in the Yukon.

Kaska land claims remain unsettled and yet the federal government continues to attempt to devolve the unsurrendered traditional Kaska territory to the Yukon government.

If we are able to settle the land claims, the Yukon Act will come into effect next April, giving new powers and responsibilities to the Yukon government by transferring the administration and control of lands, water and resources matters that were previously under the jurisdiction of the federal government. If Kaska claims remain unsettled, we intend to challenge the legal validity of devolution.

We are encouraged that many First Nations’ land claims are being settled. Of the 14 First Nations in the Yukon, eight have concluded final agreements and four are finalizing settlements. Although the claims of the two Kaska First Nations in the Yukon, and the transboundary claims of the Kaska Dena Council remain unsettled, I am hopeful these claims will also be resolved in the not too distant future.

As land claims are resolved, First Nation governments assume province-like responsibility for oil and gas resources on settlement land. This means that there is no longer an emerging third level of government. Aboriginal self-government is a reality. In the Yukon, we now have 15 governments, 14 First Nations and the Yukon Territorial Government, that are seeking some commonality of purpose in charting the course for the future.

Aboriginal self-government represents a fundamental shift in the exercise of power. Local control and management of resources — with a fair share of benefits — is now an expectation.

The North presents so many interests, so many priorities — there is a burning need for a shared agenda for development that addresses the diversity of the North. An agenda that responds to the unique needs of subsistence economies. An agenda that respects the importance of traditional land use. And yes, an agenda that reflects input from industry, First Nations and public governments.

One of the first issues on that shared agenda is the need for a common regulatory regime.

Common Regulatory Regime

We all need to put our collective heads together to address the complicated regulatory map that has evolved. We need a consistent set of rules and regulations that apply throughout the North, and across northern borders, because after all, the resources we depend on don’t respect borders either.

It is no secret that industry has criticized the existing regulatory regime as being too complicated and too time-consuming. It’s no wonder when one considers the number of acts that regulate oil and gas activity in the North.

How do we begin to address this elaborate regulatory environment? Experience illustrates that effective regulatory reform is a negotiated process.

Two pieces of legislation especially relevant to this audience were generated through a negotiated process the YukonOil and Gas Act and the proposed Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment legislation.

In November 1998, the federal government transferred authority for oil and gas activity to the Yukon when the Yukon Oil and Gas Act came into effect. The Act was crafted through a co-operative effort. First Nations and the Yukon government worked together to create a consistent regulatory approach that would apply throughout the territory. It includes requirements to ensure that northerners will share in the benefits that result from oil and gas operations.

The Kaska agreed to the devolution of oil and gas management but on the condition that Kaska consent be required for any oil and gas activity in the traditional territory. We were successful in our negotiations and the Act states that no oil and gas activity will be permitted without Kaska agreement.

Under the Yukon Oil and Gas Act, a benefits agreement is required for any exploration or development work that exceeds one million dollars in any 12-month period. These agreements deal with consultation, training, employment, and contracting opportunities.

First Nations and government also worked together to create the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment legislation.

This legislation will implement what is commonly referred to as the Development Assessment Process — a single, mighty mechanism to assess the impact of activities. It will largely replace the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act in the Yukon and should begin moving through the parliamentary process over the coming months. Once it is in place, First Nations will have increased involvement through a new formal review system.

And while the Development Assessment Process waits patiently at the doorstep of Parliament, strong, supporting statements are being made by the courts.

For example, a recent B.C. Court of Appeal decision made it plain and clear that there is a requirement that consultation will take place in advance of development even in traditional territory where aboriginal title has not yet been established.

In the Haida decision, the province’s highest court confirmed that both the province and Weyerhaeuser owe legally enforceable fiduciary duty to the Haida — and that both the province and the company have a legally enforceable duty to consult with the Haida with a view to accommodate their rights and interests.

This decision reflects a great wave of change that is upon us.

If we are to be successful in the days and years ahead, we need to begin to broaden the discussions of regulatory reform, so we can find a holistic approach appropriate for all of the North. An approach that is certain, clear, and consistent across borders.

In addition to regulatory reform, our northern agenda includes other issues that we must address together. One of these issues is employment.

Working Together

In the North, our greatest resource isn’t oil, or gas, or minerals. It is our people.

The members of the Petroleum Services Association of Canada have identified skilled labour shortages as their number one concern.

It need not be a concern. Over the next ten years, the size of the aboriginal working age population will grow 3-5 times faster than the non-aboriginal population. By 2006, the total aboriginal working age population will be at 920,000.

For the oil and gas industry, there is a good fit. The traditional workforce in oil and gas is young and in 2006, about one-third of the aboriginal workforce will be under the age of 30.

So we need to work together to construct community-based training that will produce a vibrant workforce with the skills that industry needs.

We also need to work together to support and encourage First Nation entrepreneurs. Aboriginal entrepreneurship is growing at twice the Canadian average, and there are now more than 22,000 Aboriginal businesses across the country.

We need to work together to assist our entrepreneurs in gaining access to capital so they can effectively grow their businesses. Ambitious business-minded people in our communities need access to technical and management expertise and business training.

All of this will help diversify northern economies — but it is only one more piece of the puzzle. Which brings us to the next item on our shared agenda. Like many of the organizations you represent, we also seek opportunities for equity partnerships.

Equity and Revenue Sharing

After a long struggle with industry and governments, we have come to expect that, at a minimum, resource activity in our territories will bring jobs and training opportunities.

But jobs and training alone are not enough to build sound, healthy economies in our communities. We must be your full partners.

The Kaska have invested in joint ventures with organizations like SNC Lavalin in projects that provide for economic growth, training and employment opportunities.

Such partnerships are important, although they still do not provide the certain and solid foundation we seek for the generations to come. For that we need long-term sources of revenue generation, namely through revenue sharing from resource development on our lands creating a tangible financial return for future generations.

This is proven approach. For one effective example of the impact of revenue sharing we need only look to Alaska where oil and gas operations support a permanent state fund which provides $1800 US a year for every man, woman and child in the state.

In Canada, look at what oil and gas has done for Alberta. No one pays a provincial sales tax and the province has a heritage fund worth billions. In addition, as you well know, both jurisdictions wield enormous influence on energy questions in their respective national arenas.

All of the challenges that I have discussed are challenges we share the need for a northern agenda for oil and gas, the need for a common regulatory regime, the growing aboriginal workforce, and a desire to find opportunities for revenue sharing.

We cannot succeed in these areas without your support. And you cannot succeed in the North without the support of northerners.

I would like to be standing before you today with all land claims complete and final but this is not the case. The settlement of claims continues to be our primary priority. This, more than any other factor, will create the momentum for growth and development in our communities.

Where do we go from here? How can you move forward in this uncertain world?

I said at the beginning that I was going to give you four simple principles that highlight how we can work together for mutual benefit.

Working for Mutual Benefit

We call them the four C’s — communication, consultation, capacity and commitment.

Communication is a first step.

When you come to our communities, you aren’t dealing with an individual landowner. We aren’t just another interest group. We aren’t another stakeholder. We are a government, with all the responsibilities and obligations of government.

We want industry to communicate with us early and often at the pre-planning stages of a proposed project long before the project has started.

We are an oral culture, so reams of paper and thick reports do not impress us. In fact, many of our elders still prefer to communicate in our traditional language, so be prepared to provide translation services.

Which brings us to the second principle — consultation.

First Nations expect to provide input for proposed development on our traditional lands regardless of whether aboriginal title has been established. We expect consultation to involve mutually defined goals, reaching decisions by consensus, and working as full partners to determine appropriate action.

Take the time to learn about traditional land use and places in our territory that are sacred and special. This can be challenging — there is little physical evidence of land use in our territory. And be prepared to compromise or change your project plan if our input points in that direction.

Capacity is the third principle — a clear requirement for our joint success.

Support our efforts by contributing to training initiatives early so that when you’re ready to build a pipeline, or drill for oil, we’re ready too.

Community members can provide a wealth of information about the land and resources. In the mining sector, traditional Kaska knowledge has been credited with significant mineral finds and two Kaska elders, Robert Etzel and Arthur John, have received awards for their outstanding contributions to the industry.

A coordinated training strategy that targets aboriginal youth would go a long way towards addressing our shared needs and preparing for continuing oil and gas operations in the North.

The fourth principle is commitment.

As First Nations, we expect a genuine commitment from industry to work with us as partners, in joint ventures, strategic alliances, and by providing opportunities for equity participation.

We are interested in working to create opportunities for new investment and economic growth in a way that respects the needs of both industry and First Nations. Involve us in a meaningful way in exchange for the use of our lands and resources.

We are open to discussion about what form these partnerships or alliances should take. We’ll talk to you about royalties, investment opportunities, or anything else that makes good business sense.


In conclusion, if I have done anything to help increase awareness about the political challenges you face in the North I have achieved my goal. Now it is up to you to begin to understand this magnificent, complex and resource-rich environment.

We are willing to share our resources with others throughout Canada and the world but with a long-term view, ensuring there is some lasting benefit to our people. Our most valuable resource doesn’t rest in the earth or the water.

It walks and lives and breathes on the very land that has sustained us for tens of thousands of years. And we would all do well to work together to leave a legacy for future generations.


PO Box 9, Lower Post, BC V0C 1W0
Phone: 250.779.3181 | Fax: 250.779.3020