A seat at the table - The Orca

A seat at the table


Jack Middleton and Allie Blades: Indigenous attitudes towards resource development are as diverse as the rest of the country.

Throughout British Columbia, Indigenous peoples are seizing the opportunities created from responsible natural resource development.

Many see resource development as a pathway to economic reconciliation, opportunity, and a means to end poverty in their communities. In fact, Indigenous groups and businesses are taking an ever-more active role in the oil and natural gas industry.

In places like Fort St. John, liquefied natural gas (LNG) isn’t an abstract concept. It’s a long-term opportunity that’s here now – and Indigenous businesses are playing major role.

Judy and Boomer Desjarlais are prominent local business owners. Judy is a member of the Blueberry River First Nations, and their company, Top Notch Oilfield Contracting Ltd., provides equipment and services to drilling operations and projects across the region.

Judy says there are close to 25 Indigenous-owned businesses that provide services to the oil and natural gas industry in her community. “That’s feeding their families. That’s going back into their community. And it’s making a living.”

“My father was in the industry. We grew up on the reserve. But he went out and he worked and he brought us a sense, a lifestyle there that I wanted to bring my own family. And, they grew up with it all their life,” says Boomer.

“We’ve been in business since the kids were small. And, it shows they’re very successful kids. LNG was part in that and I’m very happy to be a part of this opportunity.”

But Judy is concerned most Canadians don’t have that perspective, noting, “People don’t see that. They hear the louder voice, which is the activists who are against what we’re doing. And, you know, when we don’t have enough networks like the Indigenous Resource Network (IRN) to say, hey, that’s not how it works.”

For people like Arnie Bellis, former two-term councilor for Haida Nation and president of Gwaii Wood Products, it’s about having a seat at the table. Arnie is the chair of the IRN, a recently-formed group that aims to share stories and ideas for how Indigenous businesses can continue to thrive in the resource sector.

“I joined the IRN to be an advocate for First Nations to reconnect with their resources. And in my experience, when First Nations people do things for themselves, that’s where the greatest benefit is achieved,” says Bellis.

In his words, “First Nations should always strive to work to prosperity, not stay in managed poverty. And we have to put our best foot forward and come up with solutions or understand the reality of what it’s going to take, for First Nations people to be independent.”

Allie Blades is an Advisor for Citizen Engagement and Outreach in BC with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). Jack Middleton is an Advisor for Citizen Engagement and Outreach in BC with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).