The prospect of Native communities acquiring an equity stake in the Trans Mountain pipeline is gathering momentum ahead of a meeting scheduled for Vancouver on July 25.
Leading the way are the Fort McKay and Mikisew Cree First Nations of Alberta, who raised C$545 million last year through a bond issue to buy 49 percent of Suncor Energy’s storage facilities at the northern end of the oil sands region.
Several other First Nations have expressed support for the pipeline since the Canadian government negotiated a takeover of the project, saying they would be interested in assuming an ownership position.
Fort McKay Chief Jim Boucher told the Vancouver Sun said there has been communication with the government, including Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr and Minister of Infrastructure Amarjeet Sohi.
“They are responding favorably,” he said. “So far, we have received encouragement.”
Boucher saw no problem for the aboriginal communities in raising money on the bond market.
Previous benefits agreementsWhen Kinder Morgan was the pipeline owner, 10 Alberta and 33 British Columbia First Nations along the pipeline route signed benefits agreements valued at C$400 million, and some in British Columbia have expressed interest in becoming ownership partners.
That option is likely to be further pursued at the Vancouver meeting which is being hosted by the Fort McKay and Mikisew nations.
Although he was unaware of the meeting, Lower Nicola First Nation Chief Aaron Sumexheltza said he was open to a discussion, despite the fact that the original Trans Mountain line is now 60 years old.
Ellis Ross, an opposition member of the British Columbia legislature, said he was positive some B.C. First Nations would be eager to invest in the pipeline once the Canadian governments makes the terms public.
He said that including indigenous communities as owners of economic projects would be the “last piece of the puzzle” to fully involve aboriginals in rights and title on their claimed lands.
Considerable interestMorneau’s office said “many investors have already expressed interest” in joining the project, along with Canadian pension funds and “others,” but would not indicate what form First Nations investment might take.
The agreements Kinder Morgan struck with First Nations included environmental monitoring, contracting opportunities, job training and direct revenue payments worth an estimated C$400 million over an undisclosed number of years, but did not open the door to equity discussions.
Michael LeBourdais, chief of the Whispering Pines Indian Band near Kamloops in south-central B.C., said he has been approached by Canada’s major banks with proposals to finance an equity stake in Trans Mountain.
Stephen Buffalo, president of the Indian Resource Council that represents 130 First Nations across Canada, said it is “imperative that indigenous people are included in all discussions and decisions relating to Kinder Morgan,” and demanded an equity role for those nations.
The closest First Nations came to becoming partners in a major pipeline was when Enbridge funded stakes valued at C$300 million for 26 indigenous groups in its Northern Gateway line covering a 10 percent chunk of the project’s equity, but the venture was scuttled in 2016 by the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, at the same time it approved the Trans Mountain expansion.