Ermineskin Resource Development works to create employment, business opportunities, training programs and contracting, all while ensuring oil and gas companies respect the needs, traditions and way of life of the Ermineskin Cree Nation.
Trevor Saulteaux is the Vice President and Operations Manager of the First Nation owned and operated company. In an exclusive interview with The Canadian Business Quarterly, Mr Saulteaux details how organization, legislation and documentation enables the company to create partnerships that benefit both industry and First Nations people.
Starting a company
The need for a body like Ermineskin Resource Development arose when Consultation Director, Carol Wildcat, began noticing opportunities from her position as first point of contact between the nation and industry. “If any oil and gas or pipelines were in our territory, all over Alberta, or within our reserve, they had to consult with Carol,” Mr. Saulteaux said.
“We both worked with industry, she as first point of contact and I as the second phase of her strategy. She requested from our Chief and Council that we join forces, and from that point we opened up our Economic Development offices.”
I made sure that the company had the proper qualifications within industry to qualify as a business-based company. I helped start, and gave us the grounds to use the consultation to do negotiations and talks for traditional territory and any business opportunities.
When the business began in 2009, the Alberta government was not initially proactive in notifying the Ermineskin Cree Nation of upcoming opportunities. Fortunately, Carol Wildcat was able to implement a successful strategy to declare intervener status from the beginning of any buildings or infrastructural changes taking place on the land in which the nation hunts, picks berries and produces medicines. The result was that a negotiation process between oil and gas companies and the Ermineskin Cree Nation became vital to the progression of any operations in the area.
The Ermineskin nation creates an intervener status, which forces the company to come to us and listen to what we have to say. Then after Carol has completed her negotiations she allows the company to add that checkmark to their consultation obligations.”
Ermineskin Resource Development
As a main producer of oil and gas, the Ermineskin Cree Nation is able to quickly and reliably compare the needs of oil and gas companies with its own land uses.
“Our area is rich in resources. But if it’s on our land, we have an approach that you’re in our backyard’, and as such you have to accommodate our opinions and requests. We always do it professionally and come up with a good opportunity that fits both [the business’] needs and ours.
One of Ermineskin Resource Development’s main objectives is to provide employment opportunities for its population of 4,500. “We don’t want to have to explain to our members when they look at their backyards and see that somebody who lives two hours away is doing the work that they could be doing.
Companies currently conducting work in the area include ATCO, Canadian Natural Resources and Imperial Oil. The work is channeled through Ermineskin Resource Development as an incorporated company with a limited partnership agreement with the Ermineskin Cree Nation. Operating in this way both reduces risks and liability to the First Nation, and allows the company to partner with larger firms in order to manage projects too big to approach on its own.
We’re a small First Nation and a small company, so we partner with companies which have experience with First Nation and who are accommodating in making sure that everyone is happy. They hire our people, we get subcontracting opportunities, and they are made more competitive in their contracting. We make sure that these companies are well known and that we happily work with these companies, and they give us a revenue stream, training and employment.
Reclamation at Pigeon Lake
Ermineskin Resource Development’s recent work with the Pigeon Lake Reclamation Program is a perfect example of its efficacy. The 10 to 15-year project with Imperial Oil is aimed at cleaning up the lake and surrounding area. The company’s entry into the project involved negotiations which would lead to the inclusion of many First Nations employees.
We negotiated that all the work is done by the First Nation for this ten-year project. That started two years ago, along with two other First Nation companies doing reclamation and remediation. We started out with some reclamation off-reserve, which we were very happy to do. We cleaned up a site with contaminated soil, loading the soil on trucks to be cleaned or disposed of properly, and bringing back clean soil.
With the process of reclamation, we also bring in a First Nation aspect. With reclamation, you are putting that land back to its natural state, but that’s often within what western science deems necessary. We add in a traditional way of looking at it, some traditional medicines we want to harvest and grow are considered, some plants and trees or things which attract wildlife to restore hunting and trapping areas are also included.
Mr. Saulteaux explains that the company is always looking to diversify, and posits that as it grows and is able to find more and larger opportunities, its ability to best serve both First Nation people and oil and gas companies will become better and more efficient.
We do business to create more business. We want to impress [the businesses we work with] and leave both parties happy at the end of the day.”
Find out more about Ermineskin Cree Nation by visiting: www.ermineskin.ca.