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Chief Greg Desjarlais: A strong oil and gas industry will support First Nations communities (Part 1)

Updated: Sep 27, 2020

We recently had the pleasure to interview Chief Greg Desjarlais of the Frog Lake First Nation, a signatory to Treaty 6 in northern Alberta.

Elected chief in 2019, Desjarlais’s leadership has seen the Frog Lake First Nation (FLFN) continue its long-established position in Canadian oil and gas—as it has been for the last forty years. It all began from a simple partnership with Husky Energy. “What started as ‘one well’ way back in the early 1980s soon became a long-lasting agreement,” Desjarlais remarked.

Beginning in 2000, the FLFN-owned company Frog Lake Energy Resources Corporation (FLERC) was founded to deliver long-term value for the benefit of the indigenous inhabitants of Frog Lake. FLERC is in a joint venture with Pengrowth, who FLERC has been providing energy to for their SAG D project. Since then, things have only been up and up for Frog Lake. “We’ve established partnerships with West Lake Energy, Windtalker, Canadian Natural Resources, among others. We also operate investments in Lindbergh.”

This growing interdependence between First Nations communities (like Frog Lake) and Canadian oil and gas is part of what Desjarlais deems ‘reconciliation through economic prosperity.’ “Speaking for my nation, which has been heavily involved in oil over the last four decades, the change is immeasurable. We’ve seen massive improvements in housing. Oil dividends have allowed us to provide recreational facilities like a fieldhouse and an arena for the FLFN. Just a short time ago, this would have been impossible—my hat is off to the former chiefs who had this vision, because it has undoubtedly succeeded."

Not all have remained supportive. Desjarlais received criticism from some over his recent opinion piece in The Globe and Mail, where the chief advocated for immediate federal support for the oil and gas industry to relieve the adverse financial effects of COVID-19—which, Desjarlais importantly noted, “ not about helping CEOs...but about helping the workers, small business and communities that depend on this industry for our well-being and prosperity.”

“You know, some might look at that piece and say to me: what did they [oil and gas] pay you to write that? Others might look at our continued participation in oil and gas and question whether we even follow the [indigenous] life at all. Both of these are unfair judgements.

Firstly, it’s not just Frog Lake that’s gotten involved in the oil industry, but many of the other nations in our area. You have Cold Lake, Kehewin, Whitefish, Beaver Lake, among many others. We’re all directly involved in the business, providing the electricity that feeds our own homes. 97% of workers are from these indigenous communities. Secondly, we remain keepers of the land. In Frog Lake, tradition is still practiced by many families. We still pick traditional medicines. My family is involved in lodge-keeping.

Of course, there’s a balance that we all have to find in this world, and we do our utmost to keep Mother Earth clean in the work we do. In Alberta, we maintain some of the best technologies to remove oil from a well without environmental damage. We’re also involved in clean energy like wind. There are plans being held in Moose Hills in conjunction with First Nations, where we’re presently looking at wind-levels, bird migration, animal patterns, and environmental studies to make sure there are no adverse side effects. Whether it’s oil or wind, I want to make it clear that we always respect the land, following the proper steps and protocol."

You can read Part 2 of the interview with Chief Desjarlais here.

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