Resource work seen helping First Nations

Aboriginal peoples in Canada, known as First Nations, have a “unique opportunity” to benefit from the country’s booming resource development, according to a study from the Fraser Institute, a nonpartisan Canadian research group.

The study, by Ravina Bains, associate director of aboriginal policy studies in the institute’s Vancouver, BC, office, says each of 600 major resource projects planned in Canada during the next decade affects at least one First Nations community. The projects represent investment of an estimated $650 billion.

“These communities are often in remote, resource-rich areas so they have a unique opportunity to benefit from these developments,” Bains said.

First Nations groups exert strong and growing influence over governmental approvals of big oil and gas projects—some supporting projects and others opposing them. For example, First Nations support will be vital to approval of two pipeline projects proposed between Alberta and Canada’s Pacific Coast and opposed by environmental groups.

In British Columbia, 28% of First Nations communities can benefit from seven major oil and gas projects now proposed, Bains said in her study. In Alberta, five proposed projects would benefit 44% of First Nations communities. In Saskatchewan the numbers are two projects and 23%.

In 2010, more than 1,700 aboriginal people worked directly in oil sands operations. Over the past 12 years, aboriginal-owned businesses have received contracts related to oil sands work worth more than $5 billion, Bains said.

While the median age of First Nations groups is 26, compared with 41 for other Canadians, the First Nation on-reservation unemployment rate is higher than the national average: 23% vs. 7.1%.

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