The oil sands in northern Alberta have had their share of negative press. They have been portrayed as an environmental nightmare that is destroying Native territory and causing terminal diseases. Very little has been written about the financial gains that some the Native Bands have received from oil companies. The Fort McKay First Nations, the Mikisew Cree, and the Athabasca Chipewyan are the three main bands who have reaped financial windfalls from the oil sands. Together, the three bands gross half a billion a year, which surpasses any other Native business ventures. The oil sands have not only created a source of income, they have inspired a new mold of Native businessman.
Dave Tuccaro is a prime example of the Native oilman: smart, wealthy, and connected to oil company CEO’s and government ministers. His life story will be available in bookstores in the new year, written by Peter C. Newman. Years ago, Newman wrote a book entitled the Canadian Establishment, where he profiled Canada’s most influential politicians and businessmen. There were no First Nations people in the book. At 54, Tuccaro is the richest First Nations businessman in Canada. His money was not inherited or part of a lands claim deal. Every penny was earned, most of it from the oil sands. He is a Mikisew Cree who started in his early twenties working heavy equipment and now is the president of his own company, which he has just sold for $102 Million to a company in Seattle. “We’ve become an economic force.” Tuccaro told the Globe and Mail.“We’re respected now, where in the past, people would look at us and say, ‘You don’t know how to do this.”
There is little that Tuccaro and his people can’t do. They have learned the hard way, and as a result, professions that required non-Native expertise is no longer needed because Native people are now carpenters, electricians, rig hands, and (like Tuccaro) businessmen who are working for one of the many Native owned businesses. Can the millions that are being made by these companies offset the environmental glitches that come with working with the petroleum industry? Primco president, James Blackman feels there is no alternative. “Industry pushes through regardless. We have to work with them collectively to try to at least get a better livelihood for the loss of the land.” Tuccaro feels the same way, the oil sands are in his words, “our new trap lines.” He says, “If we don’t adjust, we just going to get left behind. We’re going to be just as poor as we were before the oil sands started.”
Aboriginal business is very active today and is growing at a rapid pace. People like Dave Tuccaro are pivotal in sustaining that growth. We need more entrepreneurs like him so as a nation we can collectively reach the elusive plateau of financial self sufficiency. The book will be interesting for everyone, and let us hope it may inspire young entrepreneurs to make their dreams come true.