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

over $2.6 billion.

Aboriginal Relations Graphic 2
Aboriginal Relations Graphic 3

Highest level

of workforce Aboriginal representation in 10 years.

Our Approach

Local First Nations and Métis people are among the most significant communities of interest impacted by our business. We operate on the traditional lands of five First Nations and, since our earliest days, have worked to accommodate their interests, as well as those of the Métis Locals, wherever possible.

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 Communications and Stakeholder Relations and Communications Policy and our Consultation Principles. The effectiveness of our external relations program is assessed through internal and external audits.

Our engagement processes are also reviewed internally each year to ensure stewardship to the Aboriginal and Community Outreach Protocol under the Mining Association of Canada’s Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) initiative. An external assessment occurs every three years, including stakeholder interviews. For 2016, Syncrude was recognized as having a well-developed engagement program and received top ratings. The review verified our demonstrated commitment to dialogue and engagement with communities of interest (COIs) and our external communications programs.

Syncrude also advocates for greater Aboriginal engagement countrywide, supporting organizations such as the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, Indigenous Works 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 Indigenous 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 Indigenous people to be consulted. Recognizing the importance of national reconciliation, we support implementing the principles of the United Nations Declaration on The Rights of Indigenous Peoples (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.

Seventy-six consultation meetings were held with Aboriginal communities of interest on our proposed Mildred Lake Extension (MLX) project throughout the year to ensure they continue to be well informed about the project and Syncrude understands and responds to concerns. Issues raised 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. We continue 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.

In conjunction with our 2016 application to renew Syncrude’s approval under the Alberta Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, we held collaborative and joint meetings with several First Nations in the Wood Buffalo region to share information and gain a greater understanding of the issues that could potentially impact them. We also provided financial support to several First Nations and two Métis Locals to conduct their own technical reviews and develop TLU studies.

Other consultation activities regarded odour concerns, land disturbance associated with a reclamation soil stockpile site, 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 Over $2.6 Billion

Syncrude’s continued focus on identifying more opportunities for regional Aboriginal businesses led to $174 million in total Aboriginal business volume in 2016. Due to overall cost reductions throughout the company, the total is lower than 2015; however, Syncrude's Aboriginal procurement relative to our total Alberta procurement increased by more than 60 per cent over 2014. Cumulative Aboriginal spending now totals over $2.6 billion.

A highlight during the year was the signing of a General Purchase Agreement between Fort McKay Logistics and Sinopec USA, a relationship brokered by Syncrude. It allows Fort McKay (wholly owned by the Fort McKay First Nation) access to Chinese manufacturers via Sinopec, thus enabling Fort McKay to expand its business to include sales and distribution of commodity and specialty products. The collaboration allows Syncrude to establish a complete Supply Chain Business Solution as it procures these goods from Fort McKay Logistics.

Syncrude also signed an agreement with Dene Koe Workforce Lodging and Services, a joint venture between the Fort McKay First Nation and Noralta Lodge Ltd., to provide camp accommodation services during outages and turnarounds. Dene Koe owns and operates the Fort McMurray Village, a 3,000-bed camp close to the Syncrude site. The multi-year deal gives Fort McKay the opportunity to expand its camp-based business while providing employment opportunities to members of the First Nation.

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.

PAR Accreditation Renewed

In 2016, Syncrude was certified for the sixth consecutive time at the Gold Level of the Progressive Aboriginal Relations program of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business. One of the only oil sands companies to reach the program’s top tier, Syncrude was recognized for our work to create opportunities for Aboriginal businesses, employment of Aboriginal people, and development work with Aboriginal communities. Further information on PAR can be found on the CCAB website and in our Sustainability Management chapter.

Honours from Indigenous Works

Indigenous Works recognized Syncrude with its highest honour, the Award for Enterprise-wide Leadership, for significant achievement in our work with Indigenous people, businesses and communities. Adjudicators noted the breadth of our Aboriginal Relations strategy across six key areas, our ability to measure results in each area, transparency via regular public reporting, and long-term leadership commitment.

Aboriginal Business

Our Aboriginal Workforce

Syncrude’s Aboriginal workforce comprised 470 people in 2016. It was our highest level of Aboriginal representation in 10 years, at 9.8 per cent of the total employee population. Representation in leadership was at its highest-ever level at 7.3 per cent. In addition, Aboriginal people comprised about 19 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 Indigenous Works. We also support education and trades training programs that develop the next generation of Aboriginal entrants to the workplace.

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

Aboriginal Workforce

Investing in Education

Syncrude committed $100,000 to the NorQuest College Alberta Aboriginal Construction Career Centre in 2016. The Centre’s services enhance Aboriginal skills development and employability, helping companies like Syncrude with their human resource objectives. The Centre will increase the number of work-ready Aboriginal job seekers by addressing their workforce and skills training needs. It also seeks to enhance collaboration and coordination with industry employers.

A $120,000 commitment to the RCMP Foundation is supporting two student programs being delivered in Wood Buffalo's Aboriginal communities: First Light provides Aboriginal youth with the opportunity to develop a passion for science and technology through exposure to telescopes, astronomy and the wonders of the sky, while TechConnect promotes and enhances youth technology skills and knowledge through the provision and use of tablets and computers, which students keep after graduating from the program.

Through the support of a $435,000 investment by Syncrude, Keyano College held Aboriginal Heavy Equipment (HEO) training programs at several Wood Buffalo Aboriginal 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.

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.