Aboriginal Relations

Local First Nations and Métis people are among the most significant communities of interest impacted by our business and, since our earliest days, we have worked to accommodate their interests. Today, we are one of the largest employers of Aboriginal people in Canada.

Our Performance

Aboriginal Relations Graphic 1

Consultation continued

on proposed mine extension project.

Cumulative spending with Aboriginal-owned companies

surpasses $2.4 billion.

Aboriginal Relations Graphic 2
Aboriginal Relations Graphic 3

Highest level

of Aboriginal representation in 10 years, at 9.4% of employee population.

Our Approach

We aim to build strong relationships with Aboriginal communities and establish mutually beneficial formal agreements that mitigate concerns, provide shared value to affected communities, and are in accord with Canadian law. Toward this, our goals for our Aboriginal Relations program clearly define our engagement principles, with a focus on employment, business development, community-guided investment, effective engagement and consultation, and environmental programs.

Effective Stewardship of Commitments

A steering committee comprised of executives, senior management and advisors meets quarterly to steward our commitments and guide strategies which aim to ensure positive outcomes for local Aboriginal communities. An Aboriginal Relations team supports the committee, and manages the day-to-day engagement and relationships.

Syncrude’s relationships with Aboriginal communities are guided by our Stakeholder Relations and Communications Policy, which was updated in 2015, and our Consultation Principles. The effectiveness of our external relations program is assessed through internal and external audits, as well as against the expectations of the Aboriginal and Community Outreach Protocol under the Mining Association of Canada’s Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) initiative.

Syncrude also advocates for greater Aboriginal engagement countrywide, supporting organizations such as the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, Aboriginal Human Resource Council and Indspire, and through our participation in related committees of the Mining Association of Canada and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

Respecting the Rights of Aboriginal Peoples

Syncrude’s operations are located solely in Alberta and we have no foreign or international sites. We have always abided by the laws and regulations of the Government of Canada and support the constitutional right of Aboriginal people to be consulted as delegated by the Crown.

In 2015, the governments of Alberta and Canada announced their intent to implement the United Nations Declaration on The Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Recognizing the importance this plays in national reconciliation, we support implementing the principles of UNDRIP in a manner consistent with the Canadian Constitution and law and will continue to monitor and seek further understanding on its application to our business.

Engagement and Consultation Activities

At Syncrude, consultation occurs regularly and directly on key projects and issues of concern. In addition, engagement occurs regularly through face-to-face meetings, tours and community events.

A formal regulatory application for the proposed Mildred Lake Extension (MLX) project was submitted to the Alberta Government in late 2014. Consultation on this project occurred throughout the year with formal statements of concern received from four First Nations and three Métis Locals. Issues include the incorporation of Traditional Land Use (TLU) studies and Traditional Environmental Knowledge (TEK) into the project’s environmental impact assessment, tailings management, air quality, and reclamation and closure. Syncrude continues to work through the issues with each community of interest. Discussions have also been held on the approach to developing Impact Benefit Agreements (IBAs) related to the project and Syncrude’s operations.

Other consultation activities regarded odour concerns, land disturbance associated with a reclamation soil stockpile site, our annual winter drilling program, and tours of our operations and reclamation sites.

Aboriginal Relations

A resident of Fort Chipewyan, Mabel Laviolette participates in Syncrude's rotational employment program with the small northern community.

Business Development Surpasses $2.4 Billion

Syncrude’s continued focus on identifying more opportunities for regional Aboriginal businesses led to $198.5 million in total Aboriginal business volume in 2015. While 15 per cent lower than the record of $228 million in 2014, it is still a strong outcome given the reduction in Syncrude’s overall procurement spending. Cumulative Aboriginal spending now surpasses $2.4 billion.

Multi-year agreements were struck with several suppliers new to Syncrude, for such services as site security and environmental remediation. Other new contracts continue to be negotiated. All of Syncrude’s business units are engaged in our approach to stimulate growth through the completion of opportunity assessments in key areas of procurement need.

Syncrude’s definition of an Aboriginal business is one that is at least 51 per cent owned by a First Nation, Métis Local, or Aboriginal person. The Aboriginal owner also must be in control of the daily operations of the business.

Also in 2015, the Northeastern Alberta Aboriginal Business Association (NAABA) recognized Syncrude with a Best Practices Award in the Industry-Major Producer category. The award celebrates Syncrude’s successful partnerships with Aboriginal businesses, and demonstrated excellence based on a set of measured best practice criteria. Syncrude was a founding industry partner in NAABA 22 years ago.

Aboriginal Business

Our Aboriginal Workforce

Syncrude’s Aboriginal workforce comprised 461 people in 2015. It was our highest level of Aboriginal representation in 10 years, at 9.4 per cent of the total employee population. In addition, Aboriginal people comprised about 15 per cent of all new hires during the year, with Aboriginal employee attrition comparable to the general employee attrition rate.

Our goal is for Syncrude’s Aboriginal workforce to reflect Aboriginal representation in the Wood Buffalo region, which was about 11 per cent in 2011, according to Statistics Canada. We work continually to maintain strong levels of Aboriginal hiring, through the efforts of a dedicated Aboriginal recruitment specialist, our rotational employment program for Fort Chipewyan residents, and our participation in events organized by Indspire and the Aboriginal Human Resource Council. We also support education and trades training programs that develop the next generation of Aboriginal employees.

For a complete overview of our Aboriginal workforce performance, refer to the data table in our Employment chapter.

Aboriginal Workforce

Investing in Education

Through the support of a $435,000 investment by Syncrude, Keyano College held Aboriginal Heavy Equipment (HEO) training programs at Fort McMurray 468 First Nation and Fort McKay First Nation in 2015. In all, 21 students – 95 per cent of those enrolled – completed the training and gained HEO certification. The program will be held in additional Wood Buffalo communities in 2016. The six-week program is delivered through a mobile lab and simulators which enable students to train in a safe and controlled environment close to home.

Recognizing that Aboriginal people represent one of Canada’s youngest and fastest growing demographics, Syncrude developed a new initiative to raise awareness of the role education can play in both personal and career success. The Imagine What’s Possible program brings into the classroom Elders, employees, business owners, community leaders and post-secondary students to discuss their learning experiences and to address the importance of education. The program will be rolled out in schools throughout Fort McMurray starting in 2016.

Encouraging Greater Aboriginal Inclusion

In August, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce issued a new report, funded in part by Syncrude, advocating for greater Aboriginal participation in Canada’s economy. Entitled Aboriginal Edge: How Aboriginal Peoples and Natural Resource Businesses Are Forging a New Competitive Advantage, the report outlines the importance of Aboriginal peoples in Canada’s competitiveness and the benefits in forging mutually productive relationships. This includes Aboriginal investment and ownership, employment, procurement, partnering on community development and collaboration on environmental protection. The report also discusses Aboriginal rights and examines the last 40 years of Aboriginal relations in the resource industry.

PAR Accreditation Renewed

Syncrude’s accreditation at the gold level in the Progressive Aboriginal Relations (PAR) program of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) was renewed for the sixth time in 2015. According to the CCAB, PAR Gold companies such as Syncrude demonstrate sustained leadership in Aboriginal relations and our commitment to working with Aboriginal businesses and communities has built the business case that other companies aspire to prove. PAR establishes a framework for companies to measure progress on developing progressing Aboriginal relations and considers corporate efforts in Aboriginal employment, business development, building individual capacity and enhancing relations with communities. Syncrude is one of two oil sands companies holding top-tier distinction. Further information on PAR can be found on their CCAB website and in our Sustainability Management chapter.

Promoting Community Success Stories

Syncrude annually publishes a comprehensive overview of our Aboriginal relations work and our progress in stewarding to our key commitment areas. Called Pathways, the review also profiles tremendous success stories and role models from Aboriginal communities. It is available for download here.