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Oil, gas development could harm First Nations' quality of living: Sierra Club

Oil, gas development could harm First Nations' quality of living: Sierra Club
Last Updated: Friday, July 27, 2007 | 12:23 PM MT
CBC News

Decades of oil and gas activity in northern Alberta has done little to improve the lives of aboriginal people living there, according to a national environmental group that used federal government numbers that gauge community well-being.

The Sierra Club of Canada is using its findings to warn First Nations in the Northwest Territories that the proposed Mackenzie Valley natural gas project could drag down their quality of living, rather than improve it.

"Natural gas development primarily benefits folks who live in Calgary, and perhaps Toronto, perhaps New York, perhaps Houston," executive director Stephen Hazell told CBC News on Thursday.

The organization is using figures from the federal Indian and Northern Affairs Department's "community well-being index" to see how First Nations affected by oil and gas development compare with those that are not.

Community well-being in the N.W.T.

Fort Liard 73
Behchoko 65
Fort Good Hope 69
Inuvik 87
Fort Simpson 84
Wrigley 66
Fort Resolution 69
Tulita 66
N'dilo/Dettah 71
N.W.T. average, First Nations 71
N.W.T. average, non-First Nations 78
(Source: Indian and Northern Affairs Canada)

The index, which the department has been using since 2004, uses 2001 census data to measure education, employment, per capita income and housing quality and quantity in First Nations and non-First Nations communities across the country. The index assigns scores out of 100.

The Sierra Club singled out the Dene Tha' First Nation in northwestern Alberta, which has seen development over the last few decades. It scored 57 out of 100 points in Indian and Northern Affairs' community well-being index.

By contrast, the Northwest Territories community of Fort Simpson scored 84 out of 100, while Inuvik — where the proposed Mackenzie pipeline route begins — scored 87 of 100, the highest score in the territory.

"We hear all the time [that] oil and gas development brings prosperity to communities," Hazell said. "Well, this seems to suggest that just the opposite was happening."

Hazell said his group will present this research to the Joint Review Panel examining the social and environmental impacts of the Mackenzie gas project. The panel is holding hearings in Yellowknife next month to discuss the long-term cumulative effects of the project.

Community well-being in Alta.
Blood reserve 61
Fort McMurray First Nation 66
Chipewayan First Nation 62
Enoch First Nation 63
Dene Tha' First Nation 57
Heart Lake 53
Alta. average, First Nations 60
Alta. average, non-First Nations 84

But an Ontario sociologist who helped create the government's community well-being index said the Sierra Club is using the wrong tool to make its arguments.

University of Western Ontario sociologist Jerry White said there are too many variables related to oil and gas development — such as whether communities are receiving any royalties — that would have to be factored into the index in order for the group to make its point.

"There'd be so many things you'd have to look at before you could attribute any difference to just the oil and gas," White said. "It would be very difficult to make that kind of a claim directly."

The index, White said, was created to determine what makes communities healthy, and produce policies to support it.

"One of the things we're really interested in is people having the debate and discussions over government policy and development policy," White said.

"The well-being index does give people a chance to at least say, 'gee, why are aboriginal communities clustered at the bottom of communities in Canada?' Where is disadvantage coming from?"

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