“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
- Mark Twain
That masterful Twain quote, one of a million or so he has, is a generational thing. Certain cycles are, in broad strokes, predictable. It’s a part of growing up I suppose; at a certain age, everything seems simple and obvious – parents are stupid, for starters. As one moves through stages of experience and responsibility, a few of those certitudes begin to melt like ice sculptures.
Don’t worry, this isn’t one of those “kids are horrible these days” bonehead rants. I’ve worked with some astonishingly capable young people in the past few years, with formidable work ethics. Furthermore, sometimes this illusion-shattering strikes us all, no matter how much we think we have it all figured out. It happened to me just recently.
Before discussing my own personal obtuseness, it’s valuable to map out what today’s activists/idealists’ paths might look like. The current generation of youth doesn’t remember the hippie movement, and to be honest neither do I – not because I was in on the drug fest, but because I was two. As I grew up I did become aware of the battle cry of the day, the fight against “the man” and “the establishment.” It was a pretty big deal, particularly in the US, and was sort of definitional of that generation (or so the stereotype goes anyway).
Fast forward to today, and yesterday’s hippies are today’s Boomers, the subject of considerable derision from their very coddled offspring (The phrase “OK Boomer” is a new-ish mockery/dismissal of attitudes held by the Boomer generation) who now are fighting their own set of invisible chains. What comes around goes around, eventually. What makes these attitudes against older generations “come around” is when the younger set is faced with the responsibility of grown up life. In the modern era where life is in general more comfortable than ever in history, where helicopter parents shield youth from anything more sinister than a sliver, it can come as quite a shock to learn that life will not always hand you everything you desire. If you’re young and see a haggard middle-ager in line at the grocery store, clutching an effortless evening meal with an exhausted/bone-weary look on their face, know that that is the look of mortgages, kid problems, boss problems, elderly parent issues, and fading youth, and know that that will be you before you know it. And when the kids laugh at you and call you the latest inter-generational insult, you’ll discover what it feels like to have that same look of bemused, tired indifference on your face.
Idealism and naiveté give way to pragmatic realities for most as they ultimately find out just how hard a lot of mundane stuff really is. It all takes a lot of energy. Boxers know they only have so much in their tank, and they learn how to ration it over the duration of a fight. It’s no different for the rest of us, though that truth is less stark (fewer punches to the head, hopefully) and on a different time scale. We may have grand visions of idealism, but at the end of a long day after a long week after yet another year in the trenches, we go for the La-Z-Boy and the big SUV and a vegetative week of all-inclusive isolation therapy. Tomorrow’s activists will be protesting wildly about something we don’t even know is a problem today, but you can be sure something bad will arise, and over time they too will take their place in the ranks of the ex-idealists club (yeah sure, some of you will soar like eagles…but it most likely won’t be like you think).
Sometimes this phenomenon strikes across the demographic spectrum. It recently caught me like I’d stepped on a rake in the grass. Last year, British Columbia adopted UNDRIP, the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I’m all for the rights of Indigenous peoples, but UN declarations, as a basis for Canadian law, make my stomach feel like a washing machine with a brick in it. In the entire crowd of “never built anything in my life” ineffectuals haunting the corridors of power, the UN is the worst. I wasn’t alone; many feared that UNDRIP in BC would give veto power to Indigenous groups, and that Indigenous groups were aligned with the anti-hydrocarbon squadrons that dominate the media narrative. That’s what we see week in and week out, including global pockets of support for illegal rail blockades across Canada this past winter as various stealthy/slithering activist campaigns showed up to “stand with” Canada’s Indigenous peoples against a natural gas pipeline.
Turns out that was a crock. The Canadian Energy Centre, which after a rocky start is now doing some phenomenal work, recently published a study that measured First Nations’ support for oil and gas development in BC and Alberta. The results were astounding, and should be like a jolt of caffeine to the beleaguered hydrocarbon industry: in BC, First Nations by a count of ten-to-one supported oil development, and supported natural gas development unanimously – that is, no recorded opposition to natural gas. In Alberta, support was even stronger. That doesn’t mean there is no opposition whatsoever, it means that the media narrative was twisted beyond belief.
So as it turns out I, like Mark Twain’s example, had to revisit a preconceived notion of my own, rather abruptly. It has been, to quote the late great Steve Jobs, insanely great to see some of the Indigenous response to UNDRIP in BC. First, there was an excellent ResourceWorks UNDRIP conference in Vancouver in January that kick-started a dialogue on what UNDRIP actually means, and the output was impressive. The discussions were not what we’d been primed to expect here in the oil patch; there was a lot of energizing forward thinking, free of acrimony. There were open discussions about how to make things work, not how to shut things down. Indigenous people are seeing this as an opportunity to move forward, and not as a tool of vengeance. It is a great thing to watch it all unfold in this manner.
The “movement” is growing. Two Kamloops area First Nations have asked Tiny House Warriors, a group that came into existence to hinder the Trans Mountain expansion, to vacate their protest camps. “They don’t speak for us…nor are they our guests on our territory,” the two First Nations said in a joint statement. The two First Nations support TMX, and are saying so, and again this shatters the fears of what UNDRIP might have done. That’s not to say it will be all smooth sailing, but early signs are encouraging that First Nations truly see this as a path forward and not a blueprint for confrontation.
Beyond that, and on a much larger scale, Project Reconciliation is looking to drive a great big truck right through the façade of a barrier between resource development and Indigenous peoples. The group is looking to buy a controlling interest in Trans Mountain, and hopefully they are looking to go even bigger. The group is progressively tackling issues like marine and tanker noise in the Salish Sea, searching out new ideas that might help oil move in better ways through those critical waters. It’s great stuff. Imagine the breakthrough if this group pioneered a new breed of quiet tanker that made the rest of the watercraft in the region look like coal rollers.
Canada’s hydrocarbon sector has been through the meat grinder these past few years, going back to late 2014 when Saudi Arabia/OPEC abandoned its long-standing price stability role. Since then, prices have fallen further (both oil and natural gas), energy infrastructure has been stymied, and the energy workforce has watched in incredulity as the “never built a thing in our lives” crowd convinced global audiences to carry signs saying that the fuel that keeps them all alive will destroy civilization as we know it. The industry has been singled out and pummelled into the ground, and now sits in random social-distanced clusters, staring tiredly into space and wondering “why us”.
As have Canada’s Indigenous peoples for far longer than that. Wouldn’t it be incredible if, as Canada’s hydrocarbon sector regains some sort of form, all the First Nations that gave thumbs up to resource development (maybe even including those that gave an honest shrug and said we don’t really know what all the fuss is about), were part of the new story, were part of solutions, and it was no longer “Alberta’s oil patch” but an inclusive western Canadian juggernaut of resources, people, entrepreneurs, and enthusiasm. Imagine taking that fight to the world, a unified (or close) front where First Nations and the resource industry work together to reimagine the landscape…