Indigenous leader Savana Walkingbear working to advance First Nations ownership of resource projects

Savana Walkingbear at the B.C. Natural Resources Forum in January 2023. Photo by James Snell for the Canadian Energy Centre

Savana Walkingbear has overcome adversity to become one of Canada’s top young Indigenous leaders.

A citizen of Thunderchild First Nation in Saskatchewan, he was one of the youngest elected Indigenous band councillors in Canada and is now a director of the First Nations Major Projects Coalition (FNMPC).

The FNMPC is a national 130-plus nation collective working towards economic wellbeing through major project ownership – including the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

In 2022, 16 Indigenous communities signed on to become 10 per cent project owners when Coastal GasLink is complete.

In the coming decades, Walkingbear wants to see more equity ownership and royalties from major resource projects.

This work is at the core of the FNMPC, which is currently supporting members on eight major projects across Canada with a combined capital cost of over $20 billion.

Indigenous equity ownership in resource projects provides revenue to communities and reduces reliance on government support.

“We can take care of ourselves with our own funds,” Walkingbear said during an interview at the B.C. Natural Resources Forum in Prince George. “We don’t need anyone to do it for us.”

“I am the intergenerational effect of my parents going to residential school for a number of years, and having that separation from family values and beliefs,” he said.

“I never really understood what was happening growing up – I felt a disconnection from self, identity, values, and beliefs. I was born into a world where parents didn’t know how to be parents.”

Despite childhood challenges, including being cared for by aunts and uncles, Walkingbear persevered – seeking an Indigenous way of life that included ceremonies, hunting, fishing, snaring, singing, and dancing.

The great grandson of Second World War veteran and former Chief George Horse, he successfully completed six consecutive years of post-secondary education as an elite athlete.

“I had to realize that I had nothing, and I had to learn how to grow and adapt by turning nothing into something,” said the father of two.

“I never thought I would be educated and academically smart, so I had to change from a pessimistic mindset to an optimistic mindset.”

Walkingbear returned to Thunderchild after finishing school and was subsequently nominated to council leadership. He was elected band councillor at 28 – facing a steep learning curve in politics and business.

As a director of FNMPC, his vision for natural resource development in Canada is rooted in a strong knowledge of heritage, and community.

“When you’re proud of who you are and where you come from, you bring value to the marketplace,” he said.

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