The future of Indigenous equity in the energy industry

Justin Bourque and Willow Lake Métis Nation represent a more modern approach to Indigenous ownership and involvement in Canada's oil and gas sector
By Brittany Elves

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.