LAC LA BICHE, Alta. – Indigenous supporters of Canada’s oil and gas industry turned out here in force Sunday to make the point that the sector plays a vital role in their lives.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a business owner or a worker or an aboriginal community. We’re all in this together,” Lee Thom, a councillor from Kikino Metis Settlement, told a crowd gathered in a recreation centre in Lac La Biche, Alta.
Rene Houle from Whitefish Lake First Nation said the energy industry generates spinoff businesses that employ hundreds of people in his community — with the money that’s earned spent at car dealerships, movie theatres and other businesses in neighbouring towns.
The bottom line, he said, is the oil and gas sector helps keep people from becoming burdens on the social-welfare and justice systems.
“We would not have a proper living. We would not have a meaningful way of life, a healthy way of life,” Houle said. “Alone, our First Nation would not be able to generate that.”
Sunday’s rally was organized by the Region One Aboriginal Business Association, which represents northern Alberta Indigenous businesses, and was supported by Rally 4 Resources and Canada Action, which have organized other recent pro-oil rallies and convoys in Western Canada.
Organizers stressed the event was non-partisan and not affiliated with “yellow vest” events, where participants wear yellow, high-visibility vests similar to recent protests in France, but which often have an anti-United Nations message.
Attendees were instead asked to wear blue fire-retardant coveralls and hard hats.
The event began with performances by Indigenous drummers, singers and dancers, as well as Metis jiggers from Amisk Community School on Beaver Lake Cree Nation.
Bill C-69, the federal legislation which critics argue will make it more difficult for new pipelines and energy projects to get approval, was mentioned during the rally.
While organizers and speakers said they weren’t completely opposed to the bill, they argued it needs to be amended to better balance economic development and the need to protect the environment, traditional Indigenous lands and harvesting rights.
“The way it is right now, in its current state, is devastating for oil and gas,” Shawn McDonald, president of the Region One Aboriginal Business Association, told the rally.
Lac La Biche Mayor Omer Moghrabi, meanwhile, said Canadians need to resist critics from south of the border who believe the country isn’t doing enough to protect the environment while developing its oil and gas sector.
“We have 150 bodies of water in our town,” Moghrabi told participants. “We are environmental stewards and so are our producers.”
—By Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton