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by Joshua Campbell

This past Sept. 16 the University of Regina’s Aboriginal Student’s Centre had a timely visitor—depending how you look at it.

Rick Davidson is a recruiter for one of Canada’s leading oil companies, Cenovus Energy. Davidson is criss-crossing Canadian universities looking for co-op students and graduates to work for the company, an offshoot of the corporate giant Encana.

Cenovus works primarily in the highly controversial oilsands region of northern Alberta and has crude oil and natural gas operations in both Alberta and Saskatchewan. 

While Davidson said Cenovus was not trying to target a specific people group in his tour he did say that the aboriginal community is a fast growing talent pipeline that needs to be tapped into. 

The timing of Davidson’s visit was interesting. 

That same week, Alberta premier, Ed Stelmach personally invited the director of the blockbuster film, Avatar, to visit northeastern Alberta’s oil sands. 

The invitation came after Cameron compared the effects of the oilsands on the local environment and First Nations communities to the environmental and social destruction witnessed in his film Avatar. 

Asked about Cameron’s visit and Cenovus’ policies regarding these effects, Davidson said that any development “starts with consultation.” 

Davidson said that Cenovus hires aboriginal advisors who help them with the consultation process. Other local jobs include road construction and land movement.

“It doesn’t have to be a win-lose situation,” said Davidson. “Our goal is to hire as many of the local people as possible. Hiring local people benefits the communities.” 

Bev Burns was a First Nations community relations liaison with Cenovus’ former company PanCanadian. She said that while land access was providing employment and education for the local aboriginal communities, she questioned whether it was always a win-win situation.

For 10 years Burns consulted with First Nations communities on behalf of the company. She said her mandate was to build relationships so that they could gain to access to land. 

“Even from very near the beginning I started to struggle,” said Burns. “I started asking, ‘Is this land access a good idea?’” 

“Whenever money starts pouring into any community the social structure begins to change,” she said. 

“There’s also the environmental issue, the hunting, the trapping, and the change in traditional lands. The development of those pristine lands — that’s part of (Aboriginal) culture — to go out on the land. 

“Knowing that you’re part of making these kind of changes to First Nations lands is quite a responsibility,” she said. 

Back at the U of R’s Aboriginal Students Centre, student Ron Missens of the Pasqua First Nation listened attentively as Davidson spoke about Cenovus’ employment opportunities.   While Missens appreciated getting an understanding of what bigger companies are looking for, he questioned their motives in recruiting First Nations people. 

“I don’t want to be hired just because I’m native and can please those people,” said Missens. “I want to be hired because I have the skill-set to do the job. That’s why our leaders of today have to be our voice and tell the government that we need our education.”

Photo: Josh Campbell

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