Recent History – 2001-2003
October 3, 2003 — Gary Rusak, Daily News Staff
The issue of native rights again took centre stage at the Oil and Gas Conference on Thursday morning with a presentation by Chief Gary Oker of Doig River that further detailed Treaty 8’s frustration with the provincial and federal governments.
“We’ve tried to move the implementation of our treaty over the last few years with both governments without any substantial movement,” he said. “We are more than willing to come to the table so we insist that you sit down with us.”
Treaty 8 First Nations again asserted its 60-day deadline to begin negotiations on cumulative impact, reparations and revenue sharing. The nation decided against boycotting the conference in order to use it as a platform to have its message heard. Representatives of the Treaty 8 First Nations did say that some members of the industry have made a concerted effort to deal head-on with the issue.
“We will work together,” said Andrew Popko, vice-president of aboriginal and community relations for EnCana. “We want to show them that industry is willing to work with first nations closely.”
Popko went on to say that he is going to meet with government officials to put forth a negotiations agenda.
“This has been going on for six years and it’s time to get to the table,” he said.
His presentation attempted to show that industry and aboriginals can work together to build a better relationship. He feels that it’s industry’s role to help bring the government and the Treaty 8 nation together.
“Essentially it is up to the government,” Popko said. “I don’t know who will step up and be the champion of the issue, but someone in the government has to.”
Oker believes it is industry’s role to force the government into action. He said that the provincial Liberals have done all they can to attract the industry here and now it is time for industry itself to demand that these problems be resolved.
“Industry has the resources,” he said. “They can lobby to advance these issues. We want action now.”
The morning presentation concentrated on techniques of bringing industry and aboriginals together. Jeannie Cranmer, program manager of the Vancouver-based Aboriginal Employment Partnership Initiative spoke about helping business reach the aboriginal population.
“It really is a win-win situation,” she said of the program that acts to meet businesses employment needs through connections in the native community.
“I like to place a challenge to the oil and gas industry to be the first in the energy sector to use our services,” she said. “I am optimistic that this can work to help bridge the gap between industry and aboriginals,” she added.
Cranmer hopes that the Treaty 8 First Nation’s message was heard by industry and government alike.
“We are just one of the tools that can be used,” she said. “It is up to the government to negotiate with the chiefs but we could help on the employment side of things.”