Skip to main content

The Political and Business Climate for Oil and Gas Development in Canada’s North, Speech

WRITTEN: November 12, 2001 - AUTHOR:

Dave Porter

Kaska National Negotiator

Presentation to the Canadian Aboriginal Mining Conference

Whitehorse, Yukon

Date: November 12, 2001

Good afternoon.

I want to thank the organizers for hosting this important conference on oil and gas, and mining in the North. I am honoured to be here today to share the views of the Kaska Nation on this timely issue.

From the oil and gas boardrooms in Calgary and Alaska, to Government Departments of Energy in Canada and the US, all eyes are focused on the North – on our vast traditional lands and our abundant resources – as the next major source of energy to fuel the needs of North America. For industry and for government, the North is an untapped goldmine to be extracted and refined.

For us … The original inhabitants of these lands … Southern interest in our resources represents both tremendous opportunity and formidable challenge.

We are now in a position to shape the future of the North and be major contributors to the financial health of this country rather than a financial drain on federal resources. We have never been in a better position to make the most of our resource base, to diversify our economies, and to negotiate a greater share of revenue for our communities.

Indeed, we are on the precipice of great change and abundant opportunity.

As we survey the horizon, we see many who want to do business with us. Many who want to make deals. Many who would pit us against one another, creating unhealthy competition amongst our people.

The pressure to develop our lands is immense. That pressure right now is focussed on pipelines.

What has emerged in the North is a competitive process between two northern territorial governments to secure the pipeline route through their respective jurisdictions.

The magnitude of these proposed projects is such that no one territory will be able to secure and provide the necessary workforce and contractors to build a northern pipeline.

The focus must broaden, therefore, to take into account how these proposals will affect the North as a whole and how Northern interests, taken together, will be met.

Where do we as Aboriginal people, fit? How do we, as Aboriginal people, translate these unique opportunities into the economic clout and political independence we so desire.

How do we do it in a way that does not compromise our long-standing and deeply held values? Values like sharing, respect, traditional land use, spiritual and culture values, and cooperation.

I believe that as Northerners a new perspective and fresh approach is needed if we are to reach our goals and bring stability and prosperity to our communities.

It will take great will on the part of many people. It will take 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 and public governments. And cooperation between First Nations and industry.

Of course, seeking cooperation in order to attain our goals is neither new nor simple. But what I want to suggest is that perhaps we need to renew our commitment to cooperation as a guiding principle in negotiations, planning, business and resource development if we are to take full advantage of the opportunities that stand before us.

The North is a vast area with a relatively small population. Unlike the South, our future depends more and more on complex, large-scale development of our non-renewable resources. It is also a fragile land where we must be ever vigilant about protecting the natural resources that sustain us.

As Aboriginal people who have lived on this land for tens of thousands of years – we have much to gain – and much to lose. I believe that we can all win if we set aside our differences, refuse to compete amongst ourselves, and instead – channel our energies into cooperation. Cooperation – not competition – will get us where we want to be.

As many of you know, the Kaska are still negotiating here in the Yukon and in British Columbia to conclude our final, self-government, transboundary and treaty agreements. It has been a relentless, frustrating and costly struggle.

As Kaska, we view ourselves and govern ourselves – as one nation. But through recent history, provincial and territorial borders, not of our making, were drawn… dividing our people and separating our communities.

In order to settle our outstanding claims, the Kaska must deal with four separate public governments and several different processes; land claims in the Yukon and the treaty process in BC in addition to two transboundary negotiations, one of which includes the NWT.

So we know firsthand about the benefit of and need for cooperation!

The good news for us is that after nearly three decades of on-again, off-again negotiations and false starts with various governments we have finally convinced the governments of Yukon, BC and Canada to accept the fact that, in spite of these borders we are one people.

And we are making good progress towards our Final Agreement. It wouldn’t take much to settle our claim in the Yukon. Negotiations have been going well and we are optimistic that final agreement on the substantive issues can be achieved by the March 31 deadline.

For us that will mean a vastly improved political and business climate for oil and gas development in our traditional territory. For the Yukon as a whole such an improved climate for the industry is critically important.

A conducive climate for sustainable, successful and profitable development requires first and foremost, stability. Many of you have probably heard about the Harvard study which looked at how political stability impacts economic development in First Nations’ communities.

The study showed that First Nations who had achieved self-government and land claims settlements were the most successful in terms of economic development initiatives.

It is only common sense that political stability equals economic stability. It is this message more than any other that must resonate with public governments.

Concluding land claims and treaties will provide jurisdictional certainty, financial independence, economic power, political stability and influence for our communities.

The equations are incredibly simple. Political stability equals a better investment environment. A better investment and development environment means economic progress. The evidence for this is already overwhelming, as you will hear at this conference. I urge public governments to pay heed.

It is in everyone’s interest to turn the page and concentrate on the next chapter, a truly exciting chapter; one of building a strong, sustainable economic future for the North,

I believe there is much to be gained by cooperating with one another on a number of fronts.

One of the most pressing issues, in my view, is the need to develop a broad northern agenda for oil and gas development. What could emerge from this agenda is a comprehensive northern energy policy – designed in the North – by Northerners – for Northerners.

To achieve this vision, First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people need to embark upon a process that allows us to join forces – to pool our collective ideas, experiences, and expertise and our capital.

We can increase our knowledge base by spending time with the Alaskans and learning about their incredible business experiences. We can look at the progress in other areas and learn from the successes of the Inuvialuit and our brothers and sisters, the Apache and the Navaho.

We must establish cooperative working relationships with one another so we can explore joint-venture opportunities, facilitate discussions between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals, and identify economic opportunities for the people of the North. Then we’ll be in a stronger position to organize ourselves to take advantage of those opportunities.

What I propose is a common table where Aboriginal governments address and design a northern agenda and then persuade industry and public governments to work with us to fine tune and implement that northern agenda.

I believe that such an initiative is necessary, indeed urgent given current events.

We know that President Bush, Mexico’s President Fox and Prime Minister Chretien are already at work promoting a Continental Energy Policy.

You can be sure that an energy policy/pact drafted in the back rooms of Washington, Ottawa and Mexico City will most certainly have an impact on us here in the North.

We must, therefore, be proactive and put our questions, concerns, ideas, and demands on the table… before that policy is drafted. Indeed we must, I would suggest, be at the table.

Public governments and industry need to understand the impacts that large scale projects could have on the subsistence economies of people in the North. Not everyone wants to be a pipeline welder. Public governments and industry need to understand the importance of traditional land use – and we need to ensure that mitigative measures are in place to ensure stewardship of our lands and to protect the lifestyle choices of our people.

In order to strengthen our position, we first need to work with one another. We need to spend the dedicated time necessary to discuss and agree on such a northern agenda and to plan and develop collective strategies which will achieve our objectives.

I would like to share some of our ideas about how we might work together for the benefit of all. I will only touch briefly on these in the hope that we can more fully explore these ideas in discussions together.

Training our workforce

I believe that a coordinated training strategy – a common approach – would go a long way towards preparing our people for the continuing oil and gas development in the North.

We must complete assessments of our human resources pool, identify those who have an interest in working in the industry, and together with industry and government, construct community-based training programs that will produce a work force with the skill set to be able to take advantage of job opportunities.

We need more programs like the one at Aurora College in Inuvik, and like the industry-sponsored programs we’ve participated in recently. For example, a key component of the joint venture struck between the Kaska and Akita Drilling is the training of drill workers.

I would like to see a percentage of the revenue generated through oil and gas activities funnelled into a Northern Training Institute.

Our human resources are our greatest asset. We need urgently to identify the talent and skills in our communities and provide these individuals with the necessary training and education to develop their full potential.

You will hear further examples from the Kaska experience regarding this subject from Allen Edzerza this afternoon.

I am also convinced that the issues around preparing a trained workforce to tackle developments in the North such as a pipeline have important national implications as well, especially for Aboriginal governments. Let me illustrate.

In the Globe And Mail, Report on Business of May 23, 2001, Roger Soucy, President of the Petroleum Services Association of Canada said, “our traditional work force is disappearing” and “we’ve got a demographics problem we’re probably going to face for the next ten years or so.”

Now consider this:

  • Over the next ten years the size of the Aboriginal working age population will grow 3-5 times faster than the non-Aboriginal counterpart.
  • 91% of the Aboriginal population (1 million or so in 1998) live in six provinces: BC, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec.
  • By the year 2006, an additional 365,000 Aboriginal people will have joined the working age population of 15 years of age or older.
  • With only 63,000 Aboriginal people reaching the retirement age of 65 by 2006, the total Aboriginal working age population will be some 920,000 in 2006.

These are frightening statistics. Just to maintain the 1998 employment level of 19.5% among Aboriginal people, an additional 160,000 Aboriginal people will have to be employed by 2006. To attain an unemployment level of 8.3%, which was the overall national level in Canada, just three years ago, 561, 000 Aboriginal people will have to be employed.

Where will these people find jobs you ask?

Let us return to a northern vision, a common agenda for oil and gas development.

With appropriate recruitment and training, the oil and gas industry could be assured of a stable and reliable work force for several decades.

There is a good fit. The oil and gas industry seeks a stable workforce that is not required to work a continuous 12 month annual work period. The traditional workforce in oil and gas is young and about one third of the Aboriginal workforce in 2006, (365,000) will be under the age of 30.

The oil and gas industry would be meeting a significant need and major challenge if they were to target for training and recruitment large numbers of Aboriginal people.

For public and Aboriginal governments such an obvious employment outlet, prepared to absorb a big chunk of the Aboriginal working age population, especially the under 30’s, over the next five to ten years would certainly help to mitigate a looming social crisis.

If jobs aren’t found for our rapidly growing young Aboriginal population the social and civil disruption for our communities here in the North, right across Canada, and including urban centres is frightening to contemplate.

To my mind this area of concern should be at the top of a common agenda, a northern agenda. We could work together to ensure an innovative approach, cooperation among the key players and a solution with national impact.

Common regulatory regime

I think we also need to put our collective heads together to address the complicated regulatory map that has evolved in the North.

It seems to get more complex as land claims are settled throughout the North, the federal government continues to devolve its responsibilities to the northern public governments, and First Nations and governments grapple with how to simplify the process without compromising core values.

It is my firm belief that regulatory reform must be a negotiated process.

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

These include the:

  • National Energy Board Act
  • Canada Petroleum Resources Act
  • Canadian Environmental Assessment Act
  • Canada Oil and Gas Operations Act
  • Fisheries and Ocean Act
  • Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act
  • Navigable Waters Protection Act
  • Northern Pipeline Act
  • NWT Water Act
  • Final Agreement Acts.

In this regard, a brand new study, sponsored by the Gordon Foundation and carried out by the Canadian Institute of Resources law has just been completed.

These organizations are to be congratulated for this important initiative … a comprehensive analysis of the Canadian project review and regulatory processes for the two pipeline routes.

The focus of this 100 page study is the identification of public participation in the processes. We need to look at the recommendations in this study and their implications for our communities.

Making sense of the current regulatory process is an enormous task. The full participation of all parties is needed.

What we don’t need is the federal government dictating to Northerners. What we do need is Northerners deciding what’s best for us.


The infrastructure needs for oil and gas development are massive and will necessitate the involvement of the federal government.

Federal assistance must be made available to first identify the infrastructure needs of northern communities. Public governments must then work with us to provide the resources to build and put the required infrastructure in place.

We must also encourage First Nation entrepreneurs. Ambitious, business-minded people in our communities need access to technical and management expertise and business training. We also need to assist our entrepreneurs with access to capital in order to develop their businesses.

Equity and revenue sharing

We have come to expect after a long struggle with industry and public governments that at a minimum, future development in our territories will bring jobs and training opportunities.

We have also come to understand that jobs and training are not enough. They are not enough to build sound, healthy economies in our communities. For that we need long term sources of revenue generation, namely from equity in and revenue sharing from resource development on our lands.

This reality was captured best in the following quote: “ownership in the pipeline is for our children tomorrow. Royalties will be our trust for the future.” Harry Deneron, Honorary Chief for Life of Acho Dene Koe, January 25, 2001.

For examples of the impact of this kind of economic return we need only look to the state of Alaska where oil and gas development created a permanent state fund which provides $1800.00 US a year for each man, woman and child in the state.

Closer to home look at what oil and gas has done for Alberta. No one pays a provincial sales tax and they have a heritage fund worth $ billions. And both jurisdictions wield enormous influence on energy questions in their respective national arenas.

Assessment of energy needs

One of the opportunities that comes with oil and gas development is the ability to access low-cost energy to meet community needs. We should be assessing the energy needs of northern communities and developing plans to deliver natural gas in the most economical manner to communities, consumers and northern industries. Affordable energy is a key component for successful economic diversification.

Socio-economic protection

We know that with development comes major impacts on the socio-economic conditions in our communities.

There are many examples of how a sudden infusion of people into a community has ripped apart the social fabric of that community. For the Kaska, the Faro Mine is one of those examples.

Faro was one of the most significant mines in Yukon history, representing, at one time, up to 40% of Yukon economy. But the Kaska did not enjoy any of the mine’s benefits. And we suffered all the consequences.

There were no jobs for the Kaska, no capacity building, no contracting opportunities, and no community development. Just a slow, steady unravelling of the intricate social fabric.

Faro left a monstrous hole in the ground and a legacy of social disintegration. We are still trying to fight our way back from the impact of that mine.

On a positive note, the death of faro now represents opportunity for the Kaska and is generating opportunities for employment and capacity building. We just announced a new joint venture with SNC-Lavalin to undertake mine reclamation and decommissioning. Again, Allen Edzerza will tell you a more, later today.

Transition and changing relations

It is abundantly clear that we are willing to share our resources with others throughout Canada and the world – but unlike the past it cannot cost us anymore.

Our people survived the abuses of residential school. We were not assimilated. We were not beaten and we have not disappeared.

On the contrary, we are gaining control at long last over our lands and our lives. We will be full partners in development and it will be sustainable development.

As I have said, I believe and believe deeply that the time is now to sit at a table together and determine how that partnership will work, on what terms, with what benefits and what timetable. Those are the ingredients of a common oil and gas agenda.

As Aboriginal people, we share much in common.

The Kaska have always known this, but the point was driven home a few years ago when we convened the first Northern Nations Summit – a three-day gathering of 30 First Nations from across the North.

Since that time, the Kaska Nation has proposed treaties with the Teslin Tlingit Council, the White River, Kwanlin Dun and Acho Dene Koe First Nations and the Sahtu. These treaties are designed to recognize historical ties, implement a common view of our lands and resources and assist in building long lasting, supportive and mutually beneficial relations.

These treaties represent recognition of our neighbours as independent self-governing nations. And when we negotiate these treaties we are giving voice to our inherent right to self-government.

I want to emphasize that the negotiation of treaties is not the purview of non-Aboriginal governments but rather a responsibility and privilege of First Nations to establish relationships between ourselves and erase artificial barriers imposed by public governments.


To conclude then, we should not allow ourselves to be divided by borders or along political lines. Such divisions only serve other agendas.

It is incumbent upon us to reach out – to learn from each other and our brothers and sisters and to strike lasting relationships. We must view ourselves not as isolated communities but as Aboriginal Nations with common purpose, common cause and the common energy to forge strong alliances and an historic common agenda.

This is the agenda we’re here to speak about. I hope you feel the same way. Together we can take timely advantage of the world’s focus on the North and its oil and gas and build a truly prosperous tomorrow, a Northern tomorrow for Northern communities, for our communities.


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