rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Lost opportunities: Misunderstanding First Nations and resource development

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca in its summer fundraiser today for as little as $5 per month!

According to the Fraser Institute, it is only First Nations’ stubborn insistence on non-existent rights and blindness to inevitable benefit that prevents them from being a willing partner to resource development.

Released yesterday, the report, Opportunities for First Nation prosperity through oil and gas development, successfully repeats some well-known facts:

-  First Nations are the youngest and fastest growing demographic in Canada;

-  The unemployment rate on reserve is 3 times the national average;

-  There are, therefore, a lot of young, unemployed First Nations people;

-  A lot of young, unemployed First Nations people could find work on resource development projects;

-  A lack of education and training are two of the obstacles to that happening;

-  There are 600 large resource projects, worth an estimated $650 million, planned for the next 10 years in Canada; and,

-  Those projects will take place on or pass through traditional territories. 

Actually, the report scrupulously avoids mentioning traditional territories or even land claims.  Instead, the report acknowledges the “proximity of First Nations communities to energy development” and the “notable geographical relationship between First Nations communities and energy development in western Canada.”

These language choices make it seem like resource extraction from First Nations lands is a heretofore-unnoticed coincidence rather than the historical economic narrative of this country.

A couple of other seemingly minor turns of language reflect the report’s belief in inevitable economic benefit without any negative environmental or social consequences. 

“As,” the report says, “tables 1 and 2 demonstrate, the number of First Nations expected to benefit from oil and gas resource development in western Canada is significant.”  If you look at those tables, you see that the number of First Nations “affected” is indeed significant, but only the Fraser Institute “expects” all of them to benefit, despite the frequently contrary experiences of First Nations to date.

And later: “Tables 3 and 4 demonstrate the current employment and demographic picture for First Nations identified as benefiting from proposed oil and gas development in Canada.”  So, First Nations are -- present tense -- benefiting from proposed development.  Magical.

The report does acknowledge a few obstacles to benefiting from development and, with seemingly no irony, suggests that if only First Nations could see that the Harper government is there to help -- with workfare and the First Nations Education Act -- most of those would be overcome.

The one obstacle that neither government nor industry can overcome are the “many First Nations communities that are opposed to resource development.”  

Worse, “these First Nations have utilized the courts to delay and halt resource development.”  The nerve.

And to top it off, “(t)he courts have also created doctrines, such as the duty to consult, that have expanded the rights of First Nations.”  

Here, the report strongly suggests that Section 35 of the Constitution is an empty provision that, unfortunately for everyone, was populated by an invention of the courts.  In other words, there are no existing Aboriginal or treaty rights recognized and affirmed in the Constitution, just this one doctrine that an activist judge created from thin air.

And the failure of the Crown to respond is now harming -- no, not First Nations -- industry: “Until governments, both provincial and federal, outline specific policies and methods to fulfill the duty to consult, there will continue to be ambiguity for industry partners regarding how to fulfill that duty.”

The author is apparently unaware that the Supreme Court has already made it clear that industry can never fulfill that duty; it is solely the Crown’s responsibility.

By way of recommendations to industry, the report cites a 2008 report by Natural Resources Canada that ignores questions about First Nations rights and instead provides an uninspired call for good communications.  This is harmless, save for what it leaves out of the equation -- an understanding of the context, the law, and the roles, responsibilities and rights of the various players -- much like the Fraser Institute’s own report.

Flowing from these recommendations, the author ends with the lament that, “…in order for any communication and project to be successful, both First Nations and industry members need to be willing partners.”

But First Nations are failing to be a willing partner.

Apparently, that willingness would be present if only they understood, as the Fraser Institute does, that they have no inherent rights, that the duty to consult is an inconvenient invention, that the Harper government and the extractive industries are only there to help, and that the only consequences to development are its inevitable economic benefits.

If only those stubbornly blind First Nations would understand.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.