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Acknowledgement of systemic racism helps demonstrate energy regulator’s commitment to reconciliation

This Op-Ed by @IAMC_TMX Co-Chair and Indigenous Caucus Chair Michelle Wilsdon was published in @TheHillTimes on March 17, 2021


The Canada Energy Regulator’s acknowledgment, however, would have rung hollow if it were not taking parallel action to change its operations.

Michelle Wilsdon

The Canada Energy Regulator recently acknowledged systemic racism within the organization, and committed itself to systemic change. On behalf of Indigenous representatives who work closely with the Canada Energy Regulator in the oversight of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion (TMX), we applaud the Canada Energy Regulator for its leadership.

In 2016, when the federal government approved the TMX for the first time, it committed to co-developing an Indigenous Advisory and Monitoring Committee with Indigenous communities affected by the TMX. The government did so in response to strong and compelling demands by Indigenous leaders that, if the project was approved, then Indigenous people from the affected communities should be on the ground monitoring the construction and operations and at the table with the regulators, all with the aim of reducing the project’s impacts on the environmental and their Aboriginal and Treaty rights.

Indigenous leaders made these demands because for too long we have been shut out of the oversight of major industrial projects that harm the lands and waters of our homelands. As a result, we have witnessed, from the sidelines, government regulators prioritize commercial interests over protection of the environment and our rights, and privilege western science over Indigenous knowledge. In particular, the National Energy Board-now the Canada Energy Regulator-was long viewed by many Indigenous people as a “captive regulator” that was strongly aligned with the economic interests of the oil patch and ambivalent toward, if not hostile to, the interests of the Indigenous communities.

The committee, which was established in 2017, only engages on how the TMX can be built more safely, not whether it should be built. On that basis, the committee includes participation from Indigenous communities that take the full spectrum of positions on the TMX: from supporting it to having it challenged in court. The Indigenous members sit together with representatives of six federal departments and the Canada Energy Regulator and advance the committee’s work on a consensus basis.

The committee’s main activities include monitoring the construction of the TMX and the operations of the pipelines and marine shipping, as well as advising government and regulators on the oversight of those activities. The overarching goal, however, is to form the basis of a new relationship between Indigenous communities, the government, and the Canada Energy Regulator in respect of the TMX, the existing pipeline and the associated shipping. Every time the committee co-develops a new piece of work, or makes a collaborative decision, progress is made towards that overarching goal. The more the members of the committee work together, the more we are all able to leverage each other’s expertise to achieve shared goals.

That work challenges us all to listen, to understand, to question our assumptions, to respect cultural difference, and to be courageous in confronting colonial legacies and implicit bias. It is slow, difficult work, but over the last four years, we have seen progress in respect of the federal departments and agencies with whom we work.

The Canada Energy Regulator, for instance, is making strong, consistent efforts to address the trust deficit it once faced. It has embraced reconciliation with Indigenous peoples as a pillar of its work, it has supported the committee from the outset, and it has recently established an overarching Indigenous Advisory Committee to advise it on how to enhance Indigenous inclusion with respect to the infrastructure it regulates. The Canada Energy Regulator rightfully recognizes that transformation must take place in order to make advancements in both infrastructure development and in reconciliation.

The Canada Energy Regulator went even further recently, when its CEO and its chair acknowledged in an interview with the CBC that systemic racism exists within the organization, and that the regulator has in the past operated in a way “that discounted Indigenous people, that saw them as an obstacle, that was adversarial.” Both committed the Canada Energy Regulator to systemic change.

We feel confident in saying that the National Energy Board in 2016 would not have acknowledged systemic racism within its organization. The Canada Energy Regulator’s acknowledgment, however, would have rung hollow if it were not taking parallel action to change its operations. Similarly, the operational actions would have felt superficial if not underpinned by the acknowledgement of persistent systemic racism within the organization and a commitment to systemic change. It is by both acknowledging the facts and taking meaningful action that the Canada Energy Regulator is demonstrating its commitment to effecting systemic change and to forming the kind of new relationship envisioned by the Committee. We encourage all federal departments and agencies to take up their reconciliation work with that same seriousness of purpose.

Michelle Wilsdon the co-chair of the Indigenous Advisory and Monitoring Committee on the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion and Existing Pipeline, and chair of the committee’s Indigenous Caucus. She is from the Enoch Cree Nation, and currently serves her Nation as an elected member of Council.


Original article can be found here: https://www.hilltimes.com/2021/03/17/acknowledgement-of-systemic-racism-helps-demonstrate-energy-regulators-commitment-to-reconciliation/288883

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