Working collaboratively with Aboriginal Peoples
A conversation with Samantha Singbeil, FortisBC Aboriginal Relations Manager
For Sam(antha) Singbeil, building effective relationships is key – and it’s what she loves most about her job. Sam has worked at FortisBC for almost seven years, and has been in the utility industry for almost a decade. Born-and-raised in Vancouver, she and her husband now live in Delta along with their dog, Eva and homestay son, Jiro.
We spoke with Sam about why it’s important for FortisBC to connect early and in a meaningful way with Aboriginal Peoples, and how shared knowledge is helping us design more responsive and safer projects that respect and address local values.
How would you describe your role as Aboriginal Relations Manager?
I’m a problem-solver and communications liaison between local Aboriginal communities whose territories could be affected by our projects, and project teams at FortisBC. Together, we facilitate consultation, negotiations, and most importantly, hold the relationship with communities. Rather than seeking the ‘right’ answer in any situation, I support the process towards finding optimal solutions.
I also help ensure we’re supporting fair and equal access to employment and contracting opportunities for local Aboriginal tradespeople and businesses, as well as developing education and training programs.
What’s your approach to working with Aboriginal Peoples?
My goal is to work collaboratively with communities early, often, and look for innovative ideas and solutions. I do my best to follow through on our Statement of Aboriginal Principles, which was developed in collaboration with key leaders in the Aboriginal community a number of years ago.
But I don’t do this alone—the project teams at FortisBC care just as much as I do about building long-term, meaningful relationships with Aboriginal communities with respectful, open and collaborative dialogue. Relationship building is what I love the most about my job.
Which First Nations are you working with on the Eagle Mountain-Woodfibre Gas Pipeline project?
We’re engaging with the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Squamish Nation, Kwikwetlem First Nation and Musqueam First Nation.
That project is undergoing a Squamish Nation environmental assessment. What does this involve?
The Squamish Nation Process was launched to review our Eagle Mountain-Woodfibre Gas Pipeline Project and the Woodfibre LNG Ltd. project. It’s a separate but parallel process to the provincial environmental assessment the BC Environmental Assessment Office is conducting. We’re participating in the Squamish Nation Process voluntarily, as is Woodfibre LNG Ltd.
The Squamish Nation Process was designed to allow the Nation to assess projects from their perspective using community feedback, independent scientific analysis, and analysis of the project’s impacts on rights and title interests today, and those of future generations.
The outcome of this process would be a Squamish Nation Environmental Assessment Certificate which will include a number of conditions FortisBC must meet for the project to move forward.
How has feedback from Aboriginal communities changed this proposed pipeline project?
The feedback we’ve received has been invaluable. Traditional and present knowledge from the Aboriginal communities we’re engaging with has led us to propose a new gas pipeline installation method underneath the Squamish estuary and Skwelwil’em Wildlife Management Area, to avoid surface impacts.
We’re also proposing to relocate the new Squamish compressor station in a remote area further away from Squamish Nation members living on reserve lands, and we’re ensuring our proposed pipeline route avoids known archaeological or heritage sites, sensitive terrain, and environmental areas. These are just a few examples of the changes and commitments we’ve made in response to local Aboriginal communities’ feedback and concerns.
What does success look like when working with Aboriginal Peoples?
It means that we as a company, and me as an individual, can walk into an Aboriginal community, have a great dialogue which helps make our projects better, and be welcomed back for another chat in the future. It means sharing, it means supporting and it means that we move ahead together.
Also, hugs. If I get hugs from community members, then I know we’re on the right track.
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