This week, indigenous leaders from both sides of the Canada – U.S. border gathered in Calgary to sign a declaration of opposition against the Keystone XL pipeline.

Indigenous support for many energy projects

Our job at the Canada West Foundation is to be as objective as possible, to rely on the best evidence available. And the truth is, there are indigenous communities that object to this kind of development – but there are also indigenous communities that support it.

Some examples include:

  1. Chiefs’ Council for Eagle Spirit Energy – at $14B, this is the largest First Nations endeavor in the world. They are challenging the federal government’s moratorium and recently proposed ban on oil tanker traffic along the northwest coast of BC. According to Woodland Cree Chief Isaac Laboucan-Avirom, there has been, “Absolutely a lack of consultation.”
  2. The Aboriginal Equity Partners supported the Enbridge Northern Gateway – they had negotiated an equity stake in the pipeline, seeing it is a key opportunity for prosperity for their members. They are now frustrated and angry.
  3. As we write this, Enbridge and Natural Resources Canada are working closely with many supportive indigenous bands on the Line 3 pipeline.

Many people, including the media, make a big mistake in assuming that somehow indigenous people are a single, homogeneous group. On the contrary, the diversity is incredible, with diverse views, and diverse interests.

And there is an increasing number of indigenous communities and indigenous leaders who have decided that it’s time to manage prosperity for their people instead of poverty.

Great progress on renewables, but world demand for oil will remain for decades

Despite all the good news about renewables and advances in clean technologies – which we think is great, and which we strongly support – virtually all forecasts show significant world demand for oil continuing for the next several decades. And Canada has a lot with which to supply the world.

With new technologies coming onstream almost daily, oilsands oil is now rivalling other heavy oil in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. This is GREAT news for Canada.  And pipelines are the safest and most efficient way to transport it.

We all want to reduce GHGs – but most happens when fuel is burned. To reduce emissions, the world needs to reduce consumption and demand. That’s where protesters should focus their efforts. Otherwise others will simply provide what Canada is prevented from providing – and Canadians will be prevented from having the jobs and prosperity that they could – and should –have.

We’re not about to close the TransCanada Highway

Pipelines are not only just a mode of transportation, they are the safest and most efficient way of transporting our oil. They are an inappropriate proxy for climate change concerns.

For some context, let’s try a different way of looking at this issue: We all have legitimate concerns about water and air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and safety – issues with any form of economic activity. But let’s be objective. Based on those three criteria – pollution, GHGs and human safety – it would be far more effective to shut down the TransCanada Highway, or Interstate 94 running through North Dakota.

We of course won’t do that. But we could be putting far more emphasis on car and truck emissions (both air pollution and GHGs) and human safety improvements for cars and trucks passenger safety. Just as we should be continuing our efforts to reduce the GHG emissions, improve spill prevention and ensure human safety with our pipelines – instead of stopping them altogether. The Canadians who would otherwise not have jobs deserve as much consideration as those who depend on using the highway.

– Martha Hall Findlay is President and CEO of the Canada West Foundation