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Opinion: Resource sector offers opportunities for First Nations people

Risks can be mitigated: Blanket ban on all development in the province is troubling

By Bruce Dumont, Special to The Vancouver Sun

I received an early education in the benefits of the resource industry, having grown up around the forestry and oil and gas sectors in B.C. and Alberta.

My father worked in forestry as a faller and bucker for 46 years, and I did the same for some 20 years, later specializing in occupational safety.

I’ve witnessed first-hand the enormous economic and social opportunities our resource sector can provide to Metis and First Nations people.

In fact, across the country more than 650 communities depend on resource industries like mining, forestry, fishing and oil and gas — and these industries employ millions of Canadians directly and indirectly.

The oilsands sector, for example, is one of the largest employers of Aboriginal people in the country. In 2010, companies in the oilsands purchased $1.3 billion in goods and services from Aboriginal-owned businesses.

There are some 17,000 Metis working in the resource sector today in wide-ranging fields from lawyers and accountants to pipefitters, electricians, welders, consultants and engineers. These are high-paying jobs that help support Metis families and communities.

B.C. must continue to support its vital resource and energy sectors. Whether it’s building a mine or constructing a pipeline, such projects can be built responsibly, in a manner that protects the environment while enhancing livelihoods for Metis people and other British Columbians.

Metis history is closely intertwined with the history of the resource sector. Indeed, the Metis were the original entrepreneurs of the fur trade in this country.

While I’m very proud of that history, I also recognize that the resource sector has come a long way in the past few decades. I’ve seen it. Those who work in the resource sector today are no longer just “hewers of wood and drawers of water,” but rather innovators, using cutting-edge technology to pioneer more environmentally sound and effective means of extracting our bountiful natural resources for the benefit of society.

Yet some continue to promote an anti-development narrative in this province that claims all development, no matter how environmentally and socially responsible, should be restricted.

For me, a blanket ban on all resource development in this province is worrying.

Sure, we should say no to development projects that can’t be done right and that would damage our province’s environment.

At the same time, while no resource project is without risk, these risks can be mitigated. Serious efforts can be made to ensure such projects are built and operated responsibly using the highest environmental standards and safeguards.

And the risk runs both ways. Wide-ranging efforts to prevent responsible resource development risk us losing vital social and economic opportunities.

I believe some of this opposition is based simply on a lack of knowledge. People, including some in our Metis Nation BC membership, may react negatively to a resource project proposal because they do not have enough information about the project being planned. I respect any informed opinion.

And many urban dwellers have never seen the rigorous environmental and safety practices being implemented everyday in the modern resource sector.

So it’s important for the resource industries to continue educating British Columbians about modern mining, forestry, oil and gas and pipeline practices.

I continue to encourage our Metis youth to tour modern forestry operations and visit mine sites, for example, because such first-hand experiences can provide them with a better understanding of how the resource sector operates.

According to Statistics Canada, the Metis population is younger than the non-Aboriginal population and continues to grow. This young, dynamic and growing population is in need of jobs that pay well and provide good livelihoods.

Many of those jobs are being created in the resource sector. And so policies that encourage responsible resource development are critical to the future prosperity of this province.

That’s why I was pleased with the recent framework agreement supporting responsible oil pipeline development between B.C. Premier Christy Clark and Alberta Premier Alison Redford. The agreement makes clear that B.C. will permit pipelines only if they are built to the highest standards and provide clear benefits for local communities and the province as a whole.

The Metis are a proud and independent people. My experience has been that the resource sector allows people to maintain and enhance that independence.

When I was young, the resource sector provided opportunities that allowed me to work hard, build a good life and raise a family.

I’d like to see the youth of today get those same opportunities. And by developing policies that support a strong, thriving and environmentally responsible resource sector, those opportunities can continue to be made real for thousands of young British Columbians.

Bruce Dumont is President of Metis Nation BC, which represents 35 Metis Chartered Communities and the majority of the 70,000 self identified Metis in British Columbia and is mandated to develop and enhance opportunities for Metis communities by implementing culturally relevant social and economic programs and services.

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