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EDITORIAL: Environmentalists have not ruined the economy, Bob

Premier Bob McLeod’s remarks at the Arctic Oil and Gas Symposium in Calgary last month had more to do with grandstanding in front of energy executives than economic or historical reality.

In his keynote address, McLeod accused southern governments and media organizations of promoting a stereotypical depiction of Indigenous people as being hardened environmentalists who are completely anti-development.

He called this “eco-colonialism.”

“It is a form of colonialism that dictates that different rules apply to different peoples,” said McLeod. “If Indigenous groups don’t align themselves with a green partner, they cannot be trusted to make the right decisions about their land, for their people and about their future. Despite the narrative being played out on our screens and through social media platforms, it is oppressive and irresponsible to assume that Indigenous Northerners do not support resource development.”

Mr. McLeod created a controversy where none needed to exist. The North's traumatic colonial legacy is complex and many-layered, but at the heart of the matter is that colonial powers used their economic and military might to separate Indigenous people from their land and resources. There was no need to appropriate the term to pitch our territory’s mineral wealth to a crowd of Calgary oil executives.

Of course not all Indigenous people are vehement environmentalists. There are a number of Indigenous organizations that are decidedly pro-development and these groups are eager to work with resource companies to create jobs, help their businesses and take control of their financial destinies.

The premier accused Ottawa of misunderstanding how southern policy decisions affect us in the North. This too often is the case, but the North is not a separate planet and the choices we make here will affect the rest of the world.

Few doubt fossil fuels have been both a blessing and a curse. One the one hand they’ve improved lives and allowed human progress. On the other hand they’ve poisoned our environment and might be sending us toward climate catastrophe.

The premier’s comments should make us think very hard about where resource development and infrastructure projects fit into the territory’s economic and environmental future. However, market forces and not eco-colonialists are to blame for the contraction of the territory’s oil industry.

He blamed red tape for the demise of the Mackenzie Valley pipeline, which was axed in 2017 after almost a decade-long permitting process, but it was the price of natural gas that ultimately doomed the project.

The premier made a lot of noise about the warm relationship the GNWT shares with Indigenous governments across the territory. And indeed Indigenous groups have benefited from strong relationships with industry players. It would be hard to find a similar situation in the rest of the country, save perhaps in Nunavut.

However, the premier should not be too quick to pat himself on the back. There are ongoing disagreements, spats and impasses between the territorial and Indigenous governments.

Earlier this year, the GNWT and Fortune Minerals Limited signed a socio-economic agreement without the support of the Tlicho at the Association for Mineral Exploration’s 2019 Mineral Roundup in Vancouver. In retaliation the Tlicho boycotted the affair.

Last month, the Dene Nation criticized the GWNT for failing to consult with all of its member nations while preparing the proposed Forest Act.

Ultimately, resource development needs to be a part of the territory’s economic future but it cannot go ahead without partnerships with Indigenous governments.