Joe Dion – UCP Convention Speech.
Red Deer, Alberta
Nov 18 2017
First let me thank the Creator for bringing us to together today.
I also want to acknowledge we are on the Traditional Territory of the Crees and Blackfeet.
I want to thank the Manning Foundation for inviting me to address this gathering. Preston and I go back a long way and I am happy he has not given up on the political process of this country.
So I’m honoured to be here to witness democracy in action. Your new party has come a long way in just six months, and that is a truly remarkable achievement. My congratulations to the UCP and to your leader Jason Kenny. Leadership today is no cake walk and I admire those who take it on. So I wish Jason the best in his future challenges and in his by-election that has just been called.
When Michael Binnion first approached me to come and speak to you, I must say I hesitated because I was not sure how you might receive what I have to say. But I came to the conclusion you need to hear what we must do as Albertans and as Canadians to get this province and this country moving in the right direction from an Indigenous perspective.
My hope today is to clear up some misconceptions about Indigenous people in this province and in this country. My hope today is provide some thoughts about a new path forward for all Albertans and all Canadians. My hope today is to provide some advice that is important for Alberta and its success but also for the UCP and its success.
Lets clear about some items that may be misconceptions.
- Ignoring the indigenous population is something that all political parties do at their peril in this country and in this province. We have recent examples of this. The indigenous population in this province is approaching half a million people. While not as high a percentage as other provinces like Saskatchewan and Manitoba, it is an important part of the population and voter base.
- The indigenous population lives in urban and rural parts of the province but is more prevalent in rural parts of the province where it happens to co-exist with the resource-based economy like oil and gas, mining, forestry, farming and support industries that drive our economy.
- Indigenous people do not oppose development. In fact, their survival and success is much more directly tied to resource development in this province than the average Albertan of European or other ancestry which look to be most of the people in this room. First Nation communities receive royalties on production of minerals off their lands; they live rural so have given up parts of their reserve and traditional lands to allow for development; they work for companies that develop and produce resources; they contract to these companies; they provide services to these companies. I am not saying that other Albertans do not also do this but to say that Indigenous people oppose development is frankly unbecoming and racist to those that say it.
- As Indigenous people in this Province and in this country, we work together to advance the cause of Indigenous people because we need to and because it works. We recognize that much needs to be done to correct the wrongs of the past. We however are not homogenous as you folks of European and other ancestry, but then again you are also not homogenous on all matters. We do think though that all people can recognize injustices of the past and could be and should be willing to help correct them.
I want to explore these topics further but first let me provide some context and background for these comments.
I am a member and former Chief of the Kehewin Cree Nation in northeastern Alberta. I have been active in promoting the cause of indigenous people for many years in indigenous and non-indigenous politics, associations and groups that help advance the cause. I was there during the constitutional repatriation when Pierre Trudeau and Peter Lougheed agreed to section 35(1) which has empowered us in the courts. Prior to that on the 100th year anniversary of Treaty 6 and 7 (1976 and 1977), six of us Chiefs visited the Queen in England and petitioned her to assure us protection in a repatriated Canadian Constitution. Ralph Steinhauer, former Chief of Saddle Lake First Nation, joined us as the First Indigenous Lieutenant Governor of Canada and Alberta.
Today, while I remain active in helping Indigenous people wherever I can, I am also the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of one of the very few true working interest Indigenous-owned oil companies in Canada. While not large by the standards of Canadian Natural Resources or Suncor or Imperial Oil, Frog Lake First Nation’s wholly-owned oil company is exposed to all the same challenges that other companies are exposed to and is critical to the wherewithal of its owners, the people of Frog Lake First Nation. I am proud to serve on the Board of Directors of the Alberta Chambers Resources, where the membership represents cross-section of the resource sector of Alberta and we deal with a range of issues including Indigenous issues, the competitiveness of Alberta etc.
Frankly we as First Nations and Metis people in this province are proud to be Albertans and Canadians. While we were here long before you or your ancestors, we recognize we cohabit today. We all want the same things in life; good health, good housing, good jobs and getting along with each other.
But there has been great injustices done in the past to our people and there is no easy way to sugercoat it. I could spend a few hours detailing those but suffice to say, this country has had a strong powerful male western European dominance on it for many years. While injustices were done to many people such as Asians and Eastern Europeans over the years, I note that Canada finally gave women the vote in 1918 and Indigenous people the vote in 1960. 1960! Many of you were already born by then. So among the various other injustices, the original inhabitants didn’t even get the right to vote in their country until 1960. That’s frankly shameful.
So back to today. There continues to be great disparity in our society and we see it all around us and it is much more prevalent amongst our Indigenous people. Economic apartheid still exists in this country. You only have to watch the nightly news or open any national newspaper to see it and realize the poverty among certain groups that’s out there. That to me is the challenge we have in front of us. How do we eradicate that?
I think that resource development can be a tool to help Indigenous communities and gather their support as it has been for other Albertans in the past.
It is also fair to say that Indigenous people have more capacity today than they have in the past and they want to share in the benefits that this province can offer. In the past, they have been largely excluded from sharing in that success. They are not prepared to see others thrive while they receive a pittance.
As I am sure you are aware, there is an accelerating recognition that Indigenous population in this country and in this province has been poorly treated. The United Nations has recognized it. Canadian courts have recognized it. As of today, there are 247 court wins and counting. Even some politicians have recognized it. Whether we all like it or not, native empowerment is legitimate and happening. The world is changing. It’s not perfect – there still is racism in this province but it is better. The question is whether political parties recognize it and want to engage with it. You can look at it as a threat or an opportunity – I think we should embrace it as an opportunity because together we may be able to achieve things that have failed many times over the years. First Nations do not have a legal problem, we have a political problem.
There’s still two years to go before the next provincial election, so I want to give you some advice on working with Indigenous peoples. And I’m doing this in my capacity as a proud Canadian and Albertan – not just a First Nation.
We all know lawyers love this fighting. Lots of money gets burned up fighting issues from both sides. Lawyers are winning, but no one else is, as project after project grinds to a halt. Savvy native activists are not afraid to blockade mega projects and often for good reason, land rights, environmental priorities and the duty to consult and these blockades have and will continue to succeed. This is what’s paralyzing our country.
As I said before, Indigenous communities in Alberta do not oppose development. We want it done right and do think that the original inhabitants of this land deserve fair consideration. Moral justice would seem to require it. And if moral justice doesn’t suffice, the treaties that your ancestors and mine signed over a hundred years require certain arrangements. Those are still in effect today and First Nations leadership is using them to create a more fair and just society for their people. These are our constitutional rights and we will use them.
Together, we have to make reconciliation a priority, given the economic risks and gridlock that continues to impede the resources sector nationally, and Alberta’s energy sector in particular. I believe that reconciliation can be realized right here in Alberta’s energy sector. It’s time to take bold action. Alberta is not at the cross-roads, it’s in the ditch. You have to seize this opportunity, starting today at this convention, in order to get your native strategy right!
The time has come for Alberta to embrace a formula for fair and proper resource revenue sharing and equity participation with First Nations, in order to break free from the gridlock and economic apartheid that’s strangling our energy sector.
We support tidewater access in exchange for equity and revenue sharing. Yes, we also get paid royalties in oil and prosper when the commodity prices are strong and the industry is doing well. If tidewater access gets higher prices, we don’t only support it, we require it. We get accused of stopping tidewater access – instead we might be the biggest proponents. There is a plethora of similar issues across the industry. Indigenous people are suffering today as the economy is weak in this province (and Indigenous communities don’t have the luxury of borrowing more and more money to prop up the economy that other governments have). We support efforts to improve the economy because we need a better economy.
Chiefs of Canada and Metis leaders have taken this message strongly to the federal government and continue to do as well as with provincial governments. We have received strong support across party lines over the years for what matters to us. Voices like Jim Prentice and Peter Lougheed and Paul Martin and Alison Redford and Ralph Klein have all recognized in their times that the world is changing. In fact has changed and it’s not going back. That needs to continue and move more quickly than it has in the past and embrace all Albertans. I encourage you to continue that.
Jim Prentice was true friend. I worked with him on getting access to tidewater in BC. He and Chuck Strahl who is in the room were working on Northern Gateway while I was working with a Vancouver First Nation to build a terminal on their lands and it would be in open waters. I have not given up on that. I supported Jim in his leadership campaign and supported him publicly in the provincial election. Jim would endorse my words here today; so too, I want to endorse his words of reconciliation:
“Canada now has reached the point of no return. The status quo is no longer an option. The absence of national leadership has brought us to a crossroads that will see us either up our game and emerge as a global energy player or falter and slip farther into the background as a captive supplier of discounted resources to the United States” (P 9)
“So this is where things stand today – after 15 years of effort, Canada has yet to approve or construct a single pipeline or port facility to export Canadian oil and bitumen to markets in the Asia Pacific.” (p 278)
Most importantly, Prentice zero-ins on where the answer lies to resolving this energy grid lock:
“It is now obvious that the Indigenous people of Alberta and British Columbia are the key to Canada’s global energy ambitions, and we must embrace them as full partners in our quest for access to global markets.” (p 279) (excerpts: Triple Crown 2017 Jim prentice – Harper Collins)
I am encouraged by the current Prime Minister in his attempts to address the native wrongs but he must address the road to resources. We, the Top Ten First Nations oil producers, have promoted a First Nations National Energy Strategy which I believe is the big part of the answer; with our consent, equity and sharing of the revenues from Canada’s mass resource base to go directly to our communities is our proposed Treaty. There is enough to go around if we manage frugally. Alberta can take leadership here and they should. This would be the genuine “ALBERTA ADVANTAGE.” It’s about give and take. That’s the Canadian way.
It’s important for the UCP membership to appreciate the significance of this initiative. Native support I believe represents the best hope to break-through the gridlock we are experiencing in many years and advance this Province.
As business leaders, as MLAs, as Chiefs, as farmers we have a vested economic interest in advancing the greater common good. We’re all losers if we keep this status-quo going. I think it’s gone on far too long and I’ve weighed-in with this proposal to break the gridlock. It’s the basis for a new deal on the road to resources and it is doable. I want Albertans to see that this is a once in a lifetime resource opportunity.
My presence here today is also indicative of our peoples’ resiliency and newfound interest in the political process. I can assure you, that in the next provincial election, we will be lining-up to vote in increasing numbers as has been happening in the past. We are simply asking for a fair shake after many years of being bypassed and we are prepared to put our shoulder in to make the Province better as this is where we come from and what is important to us and others. I am extending my hand to work with you.
In closing, I have long had the dream that someday soon, our reserves will flourish as Alberta also flourishes again. Our young people will have the same opportunities as their counterparts in a more prosperous society. This is my dream and I wanted to share it with you here today.
Thank you and may the Great Spirit bless you all.
Published on December 12, 2017