[Witness spoke in Cree]
I was taught this way to address people no matter where I travel. In our language, I am acknowledging everyone here in the name of the Creator.
Good afternoon, and thank you, chairpersons and members of the committee, for inviting us to appear before you today. I understand you want us to share some best practices from the energy sector that could be helpful to other indigenous people internationally. We are happy to do so.
I am here on behalf of the Indian Resource Council, along with our president and CEO, Mr. Stephen Buffalo; and our vice-chair, Delbert Wapass. All of us come from first nation territories that have been involved in the oil and gas business for a long, long time.
In my case, I come from Onion Lake, Treaty No. 6 first nation, in central Saskatchewan, on the Alberta border. I've been in leadership for 30 years. I have since retired, last summer in June, as chief. I did not seek re-election to pursue other interests.
Our community is north of Lloydminster. It's probably the biggest heavy oil producer on Indian land in western Canada. We're producing about 12,000 barrels of heavy oil a day, of heavy crude in the middle of the oil formations.
I've been in council leadership since I was 21 years old. I became chief when I was 25. As I've said, I've retired to pursue other interests.
During my tenure as chief we were able to pursue significant benefits from the oil and gas by creating our own energy company, Onion Lake Energy. I don't know if you're familiar with Indian Oil and Gas Canada, an arm of Indian and Northern Affairs. The status quo is that they negotiate on behalf of first nations people. After they negotiate with the oil companies surface rights, exploration rights, royalty payments, etc., they come to first nations. Then they tell us to sign here. Well, I'm not one of those people who you tell what to do, especially government, Indian Affairs.
We created our own company back in 1990. Then we farmed out all the energy exploration rights to our energy company on our land, which is about 150,000 acres of land. It straddles the border of Saskatchewan and Alberta, north of Lloydminster. Then we told Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, through IOGC, here's the permit. We need the permit now. We've negotiated an oil deal, which is a joint venture in the working interests of first nations, our community. We basically run everything midstream, downstream and upstream in our community. We've entered into negotiations in a partnership with BlackPearl Resources out of Calgary. CNRL was producing on our land for many years.
We've since created many other business opportunities as a result of our joint venture in our community within the oil and gas sector. We have pressure trucks, service rigs, vacuum fluid haulers. We have different companies that basically provide service on a competitive rate with industry, with our partners.
Stephen Buffalo, the president, is from Maskwacis, which has also been a long-standing oil producer for many years, since the mid-seventies and eighties.
The Indian Resource Council is a national advocacy association that represents approximately 130 oil- and gas-producing first nations, mostly in western Canada. There are representatives from Ontario and within B.C. About 60 of these first nations have active production on their lands. The rest have either shut in production or have the potential to produce when the oil industry picks up.
Our main mandate is to ensure that our members are actively involved in this important industry and that they receive a fair return on oil and gas resources.
We have come a long way since that era, back in the seventies and eighties, of government paternalism, with indigenous people only being seen and not heard. I believe that in our community we've broken that pattern and blazed a trail in many of the different sectors...of what the government has told us.
As I said, I've been here since 1982, in leadership. I've seen the change in government and the paternalistic “policies” regarding indigenous people. I've always taken the position that we can do just the same as what mainstream industry is doing.
As a result, today in our administration and community we have more than 800 employees. Many of the senior management in all of our sectors are from our own membership. We've shipped them off to university, and they come back and work for us. My job at the time as chief was to create that opportunity for them, through the sector and industry. We reinvested our own resources back into our human resources and our community. If that's not a success story, then I don't know what is.
Our population is 6,500. Almost 4,000 live on first nations—in our community it's about 3,800.
IRC's mandate, again, is to assist and to be the vocal centre representing the industry and advocating, through IOGC—Indian Oil and Gas Canada, the sub-arm of the department—to ensure that the royalties are there, that the lease agreements are intact and that they support first nations. Many of our communities don't have that support system. Fortunately for us, we've been able to do that in our community. Many other communities have done that, also.
IRC has been instrumental in changing this mindset over the course of the last 30-plus years that it's been in operation. We've worked hard in succeeding and building very good relationships with industry over the years. We now consider industry as our partners and allies, and not adversaries. We have made many gains through joint ventures, equity ownership and capacity and employment programs, as I mentioned earlier.
We are constantly reminded by governments that partnerships with private industry are the key to the growth of our economies. We agree and have worked hard to achieve this goal. We have many success stories, such as the Blood Tribe, our community of Onion Lake, Frog Lake Energy, Fort MacKay and many others.
There is no first nation today that will agree to a lease arrangement that does not provide benefits over and above royalties, such as equity ownership, joint ventures, employment and so on. We have been successful in asserting our rights to resource ownership based on our aboriginal and treaty rights. Our modus operandi is based on a notion that economic and financial sovereignty of our nations go hand in hand with resource development, which is an important component of this equation.
The key to success is building our capacity, so training and education is an absolute requirement. Today, as I said earlier, many young people are completing college, university and technical programs. They did not have that opportunity a few years ago.
We have been very vocal in supporting the oil and gas industry in matters such as its opposition to Bill C-69, which threatens to take away the benefits and gains we have made.
Turning to the honourable committee, on the one hand we have no recourse but to constantly fight the paternalistic, outdated policies of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. That's one challenge. On the other side, we've had to work and earn the right to sit in the boardrooms and create that opportunity with the oil and gas industry. We have done that in the last 30 to 40 years, but this legislation is now going to impede in some of those aspects and go backward instead of forward.
We also speak strongly in support of building pipelines such as TMX and others, so that we can get our products to the proper market and stop relying on just one customer, who is taking advantage of us.
We need and must take Canada back to the days when we were respected and seen as one of the best places to invest in business. That's why we've chosen to speak out in support of the oil and gas industry. When this industry hurts, as it does now, Alberta hurts, Canada hurts and indigenous people hurt even more.
If you can step into our shoes in that sector, you would see that we had nothing until 1979-80 when we started entering into oil and gas. In using that resource, on the one hand over here, the funding regime based on the policies of the government is never ever adequate for the populations and needs of first nations. What we've done is taken 60% of how we operate in our community and reinvested back from the resource sector into our own people, for roads, jobs, housing, education, while the Government of Canada is over here. As you may or may not be aware, we're the only community that stood up against Bill C-27, the transparency legislation. We won that in Federal Court.
It was not a matter—