First Nations leader backs refinery proposal

Elmer Derrick says a refinery would help alleviate high rates of aboriginal unemployment

A northwest First Nations leader says he plans to help the owner of Black Press find money to build an oil refinery.

Gitxsan land claims negotiator Elmer Derrick applauded the Aug. 17 announcement made by media mogul David Black about plans to build a plant that would refine crude from Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline Project, which would mean refined products like gas, diesel and kerosene would be exported on tankers instead of raw bitumen.

Derrick says the jobs that would come should the refinery be built and operate would make a significant dent in First Nations unemployment.

I think he made a bold move and it’s commendable,” said Derrick. “The whole thing about adding value to Canadian products is very important for me because we can’t just continue to ship raw materials out for other people to add value to.”

The refinery plan calls for roughly 6,000 workers to hired for the plant’s construction phase and about 3,000 permanent jobs afterward.

I always laugh at the statistics that Canada puts out about unemployment,” said Derrick, pointing to a recent unemployment report showing a rate of 11.9 per cent for July for the North Coast and Nechako region, which covers just west of Vanderhoof to Haida Gwaii.

When you go to the villages, most of them average about 75 per cent unemployment,” said Derrick. “Our noses don’t seem to count when it comes to Canada statistics, and that really pisses me off.”

Derrick said refinery jobs could make a significant dent in First Nations unemployment.

It will make a huge difference in the lives of young people in this community,” he said. “That’s why I spend so much time trying to bring development activity to this area.”

Derrick said that other First Nations leaders have contacted him since the announcement, although he wouldn’t mention who.

I’ve talked to a number of aboriginal leaders and they’re quite interested … different people form around the province who have phoned.”

But a good idea needs money to happen, and Black doesn’t have the capital to finance the entire project himself.

There’ll be people, like me, that will be trying to find other investors to bring into the mix,” said Derrick.