Indigenous community finds prosperity working with the oil and gas sector

From humble origins to multi-million dollar business owner: Eugene Horseman shares his story

By James Snell
Eugene Horseman (left) and Shane Smith own Status Energy near Grande Prairie, Alta. Photo by Breanna Inkpen supplied to the Canadian Energy Centre

Eugene Horseman grew up in an Indigenous community where only one in 10 people were employed.

As a teen, he resolved to do something about it. Horseman worked multiple jobs, eventually becoming an AutoCAD technician for Western Cree Tribal Council and an elected councillor and chief of the Horse Lake First Nation near Grande Prairie, Alberta.

He now co-owns Status Energy, a multi-million dollar oil and gas trucking company that employs 75 people in and around the Nation.

“The money brought into the community means a lot – we have a small community where there was limited housing with two or three families, up to 10 kids, living in a house,” he said of the company’s effect on the community. “Now people are making good money – being able to afford the basic necessities of life.”

As prosperity increased at Horse Lake, more people obtained driver’s licenses and vehicles with help from Horseman, his colleagues, and elected leaders. That meant a fresh vision for the future among many residents. With community partners, two 15-passenger vans were purchased to transport women and men to jobs in Grande Prairie.

“By 2017, our company had over $90 million in revenue and paid over $7 million as a dividend to the Nation,” said Horseman, adding there’s still room for improvement in the relationship between energy companies, First Nations, and government.

Indigenous people need to be more than a checked box in corporate and government ESG metrics, said Status Energy co-owner Shane Smith.

A Government of Canada discussion paper on the proposed emissions cap highlights how oil and gas is an important and growing employer of Indigenous people. Since 2014, Indigenous employment in Canada’s oil and gas sector has increased by more than 20 per cent, reaching an estimated 10,400 jobs in 2020, it said.

Spending with Indigenous-owned businesses is also rising. In 2019, oil and gas companies spent more than $2.6 billion in procurement with about 250 Indigenous businesses, an increase of over 70 per cent compared to 2017 ($1.5 billion).

The government paper noted that $55 million in oil-and gas-related revenues were collected on behalf of First Nations in Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia by Indian Oil and Gas Canada in 2018-2019.

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