The future of Indigenous equity in the energy industry
Justin Bourque’s life journey has come full circle in his role as elected Vice President and CEO of the Willow Lake Métis Nation (WLMN). He got his start in oil and gas at age 16, and went on to find opportunities as a technician, overseeing large scale maintenance turnarounds. But his career intersected with his personal life in ways that would shape his vision for WLMN’s relationship with industry.
Bourque is now developing a roadmap that outlines the steps Indigenous communities can take to invest their own capital into building energy infrastructure and assets.
Redefining relationships with industry
“Now is the best time in history. At no better time have the initiatives that industry has announced and the beliefs of Indigenous people aligned in terms of what needs to happen,” he says.
WLMN recently created Indigenous Environment and Social Governance (IESG), one piece of a larger effort to redefine Indigenous relationships with industry partners and provide opportunity for Métis and Indigenous communities for generations to come.
Partnering for a better future
Willow Lake Métis Group, an oilfield contractor, also announced several new partnerships in recent months that will help create long-term prosperity for the community.
While his career within energy ended, Bourque’s community-driven relationship with industry was just the beginning. “Why walk away from an industry that provided for our region for so many years? There are impacts and changes, but we can’t turn off a switch and tell them to take their plant and go build it elsewhere. There really is no option but to work with industry and industry is no more than people. Why wouldn’t we work with people to better our future?”
Protecting the community
Bourque recognizes the importance of securing economic prosperity for his community. He says the opportunity to bridge his experience in the energy sector with his life in the community has come as a breath of fresh air, a chance to seek alignment and common ground between Indigenous communities and the industry.
Bourque’s vision for the future of his community and others like it who exist alongside energy development starts with a roadmap he wants to establish in collaboration with industry, government and Indigenous communities.
This relationship is necessary to secure the inclusion and success of future generations, since forecasts indicate that oil and gas will continue to play a key role as other renewable energy resources are adopted.
Forging the way forward
Through IESG, WLMN ’s partnership with Calgary-based Elemental, Bourque plans to create a model for Indigenous ownership of renewable energy projects where oil and gas producers can purchase credits locally to offset emissions. One current example is Awasis Solar Project in Saskatchewan. Located on reserve land and owned by the Cowessess First Nation, this project brings direct benefits in terms of ownership experience, lease revenue, employment, knowledge sharing, and equity returns.
“We talk about land rights, constitutional rights, Indigenous rights… there has never been a lot of talk about economic rights. If we focus on those economic rights today, they will lead the outcomes we need for tomorrow,” Bourque says.