On January 30, 2020, Cenovus Energy announced it will take action to build housing in northern Alberta, helping alleviate an ongoing shortfall of adequate housing that faces Indigenous communities in the region. In a news release, Cenovus said it will commit $10 million annually for five years to build new homes in six First Nations and Métis communities closest to the company’s Christina Lake and Foster Creek oil sands projects, with the potential to extend the project for a further five years.
Cenovus views this initiative as an important contribution toward reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in Canada. The initiative is also part of the company’s tenth anniversary celebration and is the single largest community investment in its history.
Building on long-standing positive relationships with Indigenous communities in the area, Cenovus representatives met with community leaders to determine housing and other needs and create an action plan. Cenovus is working with the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, Chard Métis Local 218, Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation, Cold Lake First Nations, Conklin Métis Local 193, and Heart Lake First Nation. The company will work with these communities to determine effective ways to implement the program, based on specific local needs. Up to 200 new homes will be built over the next five years.
“Investing in Indigenous communities and ensuring they share in the benefits of resource development has always been part of how we do business,” said Alex Pourbaix, Cenovus president and CEO. “We can’t solve the Indigenous housing crisis by ourselves, but through this initiative we have the opportunity to significantly improve the lives of many families currently living in overcrowded and unsafe conditions. This is a complex issue that needs new ideas and collaboration among many stakeholders. We hope to inspire other companies, governments and organizations to get involved.”
The program has broad support from the Indigenous communities involved. Shirley Paradis, councilor, Beaver Lake Cree Nation, commented, “We have always had housing issues, trying to keep up with families’ needs. We have help now. Cenovus is stepping forward and saying: ‘how can we help your community?’ There will be a sigh of relief for us.” And Val Quintal, representing Conklin Métis Local 193, said, “Housing is a critical need for Conklin, and we are so pleased that Cenovus has come forward to help our community address this issue.”
Cenovus also intends to develop training programs so local residents can participate in the building and maintenance of the new homes. This training could create valuable education and employment opportunities. Depending on the success of the initiative, the company may consider extending the housing program to 10 years with a total investment amount of $100 million.
Under a separate initiative, Cenovus is looking look for ways to increase Indigenous inclusion and involvement in the company’s various business areas, intending to spend $1.5 billion with Indigenous businesses over the next 10 years. Since 2009, Cenovus has signed nine long-term benefits agreements with Indigenous communities near its oil sands operations and spent some $3 billion with Indigenous owned and operated businesses.