Several pro-energy rallies and truck convoys have been held across Alberta in recent weeks to protest the federal government’s lack of support and action on building pipelines to access new markets. Last weekend in Lac La Biche, Alberta the Region One Aboriginal Business Association (ROABA) organized a convoy of more than 100 trucks who gathered for the first Indigenous-led rally for energy resources to highlight that Alberta's northern Indigenous communities support pipelines and oppose Bill C-69 — federal legislation that will overhaul the way energy projects are approved.
ROABA promotes Indigenous-owned businesses in northern Alberta and facilitates networking opportunities between businesses and industry. "We can't get anything to market. We are limited to one client, which is the Americans. We need more. We are gridlock," said ROABA president Shawn McDonald. Attendees were instead asked to wear blue fire-retardant coveralls and hard hats. Organizers stressed the event was non-partisan and not affiliated with “yellow vest” events, where participants wear yellow, high-visibility vests similar to recent protests in France against high levels of taxation for workers and the middle class.
The rally began with an elder's prayer and blessing, followed by a bannock and soup lunch, before the convoy travelled 80 kilometres around Lac La Biche's namesake lake, passing through the communities of Owl River and Plamondon. Speakers included four First Nation and Métis leaders, the MP for the area, David Yurdiga, and MLAs and municipal leaders. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a business owner or a worker or an aboriginal community. We’re all in this together,” said Lee Thom, a councillor from Kikino Metis Settlement.
“We would not have a proper living. We would not have a meaningful way of life, a healthy way of life. Alone, our First Nation would not be able to generate that,” said Rene Houle of the Whitefish Lake First Nation. He said the energy industry generates spinoff businesses that employ hundreds of people in his community and the bottom line is the oil and gas sector helps keep people from becoming burdens on the social-welfare and justice systems.
Organizers and speakers also argued Bill C-69, the federal legislation which critics argue will make it more difficult for new pipelines and energy projects to get approval, needs to be amended to better balance economic development and the need to protect the environment, traditional Indigenous lands and harvesting rights. “The way it is right now, in its current state, is devastating for oil and gas,” Mr. McDonald told the crowd.
Lac La Biche Mayor Omer Moghrabi said Canadians need to resist critics from south of the border who believe the country isn’t doing enough to protect the environment while developing its oil and gas sector. “We have 150 bodies of water in our town. We are environmental stewards and so are our producers.”
Founder and CEO of Canada Action Cody Battershill, a pro-oil and gas activist organization that partnered with ROABA to organize the rally, said, "It is powerful. I think it is representative that most First Nations support the pipeline. This is an important conversation." Canada Action followed up yesterday with a Pro-Resource Rally in southern Saskatchewan at the Moosomin Chamber of Commerce with federal Conservative party leader, Andrew Scheer, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, and New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs as speakers.