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Natural gas and oil development a pathway for Indigenous self-determination, economic reconciliation

New report sheds light on decades of successful interaction between the industry and Indigenous communities, businesses and entrepreneurs.

In a new report, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) explores an important piece of the Canadian natural gas and oil industry’s environment, social and governance (ESG) performance: interactions with Indigenous peoples.


Indigenous Engagement and ESG shows how Canada’s oil and natural gas producers and Indigenous peoples are working together in many different ways to share the benefits of resource development such as jobs, training, better housing and much more.

As a major source of economic and other opportunities for Indigenous communities, policies that are harmful to the upstream industry can also have negative impacts on Indigenous peoples and communities.

“Resource development is the foundation for economic reconciliation for many Indigenous communities,” says JP Gladu, Chair, Mikisew Group of Companies. “The CAPP report shows even through difficult years for the oil and gas industry, procurement from Indigenous-owned businesses has grown significantly. This demonstrates the resiliency of our Indigenous entrepreneurs and the value they bring to the industry. We must protect these development opportunities to ensure the opportunity remains for future generations.”

Read more: Resource development supports Indigenous self-determination: study

Download the report here.

Highlights of the report

  • Indigenous people make up 6.3 per cent of the upstream industry’s workforce. For comparison, Indigenous peoples make up about 3.3 per cent of Canada’s total workforce.
  • According to a Macdonald-Laurier Institute report, the oil and gas and mining sectors represent eight of the top 10 highest-paying occupations for Indigenous peoples for Canada.
  • In 2019, the natural gas and oil industry procured more than $2.6 billion of goods and services from 275 Indigenous suppliers, contractors and other businesses across Canada.
  • From 2017 to 2019, the oil sands industry’s Indigenous community investment spending rose from $21 million to $32 million. Funding helped support such initiatives as community activities, in-kind investments and contributions to community infrastructure.
  • The oil and natural gas industry is committed to meaningful dialogue and developing respectful relationships with Indigenous communities.
  • Like Canadians in general, Indigenous peoples hold a range of different perspectives on resource development and many are seeking to build sustainable and prosperous community futures by participating in the opportunities that development creates.

Different ways to interact

The report shows there are many ways for oil and natural gas companies to interact with Indigenous peoples and communities (called ‘engagement’). Often, it depends on how big a resource development project is – from a single well to a large complex like an oil sands facility – how the project could affect the environment and Indigenous way of life, even the size of the company. The natural gas and oil industry tries to be respectful, flexible and considers community needs. Above all, the industry believes it’s important to help Indigenous communities become healthy and prosperous.

For the industry, it makes good business sense to work with neighbours, including local indigenous employees and contractors. In that way, resource development can contribute to Indigenous prosperity, supporting self-determination and long-term mutual benefits. Clear expectations, respect and balance are important when it comes to engagement between the industry and Indigenous peoples.

Decades of successful engagement

“In a world with a growing need for responsibly developed oil and natural gas, the deep relationships and partnerships with Indigenous-owned business and communities across Canada play an integral role in the success of our industry,” says Tim MacMillan, CAPP’s president and CEO. “A strong natural gas and oil industry offers significant opportunities for employment and business development to Indigenous communities, providing pathways to greater prosperity while supporting the Canadian government’s goals for reconciliation.”

Read more: Cedar LNG project moves forward

Improving Relationships

The oil and natural gas industry has been working to improve relations with Indigenous peoples and communities for many years and there are now literally hundreds of success stories, large and small. Here are just a few:  

  • Cedar LNG project – in November 2020, the Council of Haisla Nation near Kitimat, B.C. on Canada’s West Coast voted to approve a partnership agreement for the Cedar LNG project, a floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility. Cedar LNG will be the first majority
    Indigenous-owned LNG export facility in Canada.
  • PETRONAS road maintenance – extreme temperatures, weather, and heavy vehicle traffic are hard on the unpaved roads leading to various PETRONAS facilities in northeastern B.C. PETRONAS has road maintenance agreements with two First Nations in the area, so Indigenous-owned companies could borrow money to buy a grader and other equipment, creating year-round work in remote Indigenous communities.
  • Suncor East Tank Farm – in 2017, Fort McKay First Nation and Mikisew Cree First Nation together acquired 49% of Suncor’s East Tank Farm at the company’s Base Plant in the oil sands, for $503 million. This means both communities will have stable, long-term income from operating the tank farm to enable further growth in jobs, training, and community developments.

Read more: Indigenous employment income and the natural gas and oil industry

Other ways to share benefits

There are other ways for the natural gas and oil industry to engage with and help Indigenous communities, such as education, scholarships, training and other programs that best fit the needs of Indigenous communities and individual companies. Some examples:

  • Indigenous Safety and Offshore Engagement Training -building on successful safety
    seminars involving offshore operators and all 13 Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq communities in 2018, similar sessions were held in 2020 in St John’s, NL, to talk about community safety issues, industry safety, and set up opportunities for Indigenous businesses to supply goods and services to the offshore oil industry.
  • Imperial Oil programs – since 2007, Imperial has awarded more than $1 million in scholarships for Indigenous college and university students through its partnership with Indspire’s Building Brighter Futures program. Also Imperial’s Indigenous Internship Program provides local Indigenous people hands-on practical experience at Imperial’s Cold Lake, Alberta including training and mentoring through the company’s Indigenous Network.
  • Pimee Well Servicing – operating in the Cold Lake region of Alberta, this Indigenous-owned and operated company has been providing employment opportunities for local Indigenous peoples since 1984, including career development, training and safety. Pimee provides services to several companies in the Cold Lake region including Imperial and Cenovus.

PODCAST: Doing Indigenous consultation the right way

Community investment is another important way for the industry to engage with Indigenous communities. Community investment can come in many forms: sponsoring local sports teams, funding cultural events, or building facilities including schools, houses, community halls and recreation facilities.

“The industry contributes to a wide variety of social, cultural and economic priorities identified by Indigenous communities,” says MacMillan. “We have made much progress to date, and look forward to further strengthening relationships.”