Alberta oil sands giant Cenovus says is committing $10 million per year for five years to build much-needed new homes in six First Nations and Metis communities located near the oil sands.
The company said in a press release that it sees the “initiative as an important way to contribute to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.” Cenovus says it hopes to build about 200 new homes over the five years and added that it could extend the project to $100 million over 10 years.
“We’re getting to the point where we have two families living in one house, and in some cases three,” said Vern Janvier, Chief, Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation. Janvier added that along with housing falling into disrepair, there is demand for 50 new houses.
Roger Marten, Chief, Cold Lake First Nations says his band has 3,000 members and only 300 homes. “So, the crisis is always there and is always ongoing.”
The Cenovus housing initiative is the single largest community investment in the Calgary-based company’s history and has been developed as part of it’s recent 10th anniversary celebration.
“We can’t solve the Indigenous housing crisis by ourselves,” said Alex Pourbaix, Cenovus President & Chief Executive Officer. However, he says that through initiative, the company has “the opportunity to significantly improve the lives of many families currently living in overcrowded and unsafe conditions.”
Justin Herman, CEO Chard Metis said the housing initiative is “absolutely amazing and groundbreaking, and I hope it sets a precedent for the rest of the industry to follow the lead of Cenovus.” He added “We are excited and honoured to be part of this housing initiative.”
The company says it has built strong, positive relationships with nearby Indigenous communities. “Investing in Indigenous communities near our operations and ensuring they share in the benefits of resource development has always been part of how we do business,” said Poubaix. “Today, we see an opportunity to step up and do more.”
Chief Roger Marten said “The relationship has always been a great one with Cenovus; they have always listened and try to do the best they can to help us along the way.”
The company says it met with leaders from Beaver Lake Cree Nation, Chard Métis (Local 218), Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation, Cold Lake First Nations, Conklin Métis (Local 193) and Heart Lake First Nation to begin planning the implementation of the housing program starting this year.
Cenovus says it will work with leaders from the six communities to determine the most effective way to deliver the new homes based on the specific needs of each community.
Shirley Paradis, Councillor, Beaver Lake Cree Nation said “Cenovus is stepping forward and saying: ‘We’re here to help, how do we help your community?’ There is going to be a sigh of relief for us.”
Along with addressing housing concerns, Cenovus says it will also work with the communities to develop programs to train local residents so they can participate in the building and maintenance of the new homes. This could create employment opportunities for residents in the long term.
Pourbaix says the company will also “work with communities to raise awareness about the Indigenous housing shortage and help advocate for solutions.” He added “we hope to inspire other companies, governments and organizations to get involved” in this complex issue.
“I am really excited for Heart Lake,” said Curtis Monias, Chief, Heart Lake First Nation. “I look forward to working with all the surrounding communities, with industry, and I’m excited to build homes back home for my people.”
Val Quintal, Board member, Conklin Resource Development Advisory Committee, representing Conklin Métis (Local 193) said “housing is a critical need for Conklin, and we are so pleased that Cenovus has come forward to help our community address this issue.”
Cenovus says it has engaged its Indigenous Inclusion Advisory Committee, created in 2017 and comprised of senior leaders from various company functions, to help increase Indigenous inclusion in the company’s business. Through 2030, Cenovus says it is also committed to spending at least an additional $1.5 billion with Indigenous businesses.
Since its inception in 2009, Cenovus has signed nine long-term benefits agreements with Indigenous communities near its oil sands operations and spent almost $3 billion with Indigenous owned and operated businesses.
Earlier this month, Cenovus announced ambitious new targets in four environmental, social and governance (ESG) focus areas, including Indigenous engagement, climate & greenhouse gas emissions, land & wildlife, and water stewardship.
Cenovus also continues to provide scholarships to Indigenous youth who are pursuing a full-time degree, diploma or certified trade program. More than 190 scholarships have been awarded since the Indigenous scholarship program started in 2013.