Indigenous group from Alberta adds rival bid for Trans Mountain pipeline

Regional Chief Shane Gottfriedson looks on as Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, speaks at the Assembly of First Nations' annual general meeting at the Songhees Wellness Centre in Victoria on October 24, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

An Indigenous bidder for the Trans Mountain pipeline system is sending formal invitations to all Metis and First Nations groups in Alberta to assemble a province-wide coalition.

The initiative announced Wednesday by the Iron Coalition puts it on a potential collision course with Project Reconciliation, a consortium inviting Indigenous participation from B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan in a $6.8-billion bid for a 51 per cent stake in the energy pipeline linking Edmonton and the West Coast.

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“Iron Coalition’s principles are based on Indigenous groups coming together as a single Alberta-based entity to secure the best possible deal with direct benefits to our Indigenous communities,” said Chief Tony Alexis of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, located 85 kilometres northeast of Edmonton, in a statement.

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“Our group recognizes the viability of the pipeline and that ownership will be beneficial to not only our communities, but to Canada as a whole.”

Iron Coalition said it will distribute 100 per cent of the proceeds to each member community based on ownership share and population if it succeeds in buying a stake.

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That differs from Project Reconciliation’s plan, announced last week, to direct 20 per cent of Trans Mountain’s estimated $180 million in future annual cash flow to shareholder communities while the rest would be used to create a sovereign wealth fund.

The fund would be reinvested in projects like renewable energy, energy-efficient on-reserve housing and other greenhouse gas-reducing, climate friendly initiatives.

Iron Coalition didn’t give any financial details of its plan.

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Delbert Wapass, executive chair and founder of Project Reconciliation, applauded the Iron Coalition decision to bid and expects more groups might yet emerge, adding that if Project Reconciliation’s proposal is chosen, it would invite supporters of rival Indigenous bids to come aboard.

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“I think it clearly demonstrates the excitement among First Nations that they are actually going to be included as players in the bid for the Trans Mountain pipeline,” the former chief of Saskatchewan’s Thunderchild First Nation said in an interview.

“When I started this whole campaign for our 51 per cent majority bid on Trans Mountain, it was about including everybody — I still believe that’s the right decision because many of our communities are affected by poverty … we have been economically starved.”

He said his group has been signing up supporters but wouldn’t say how many or if any are in Alberta.

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Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau has said Ottawa won’t negotiate the sale of the pipeline it bought for $4.5 billion last summer until after construction of its proposed expansion is “de-risked,” without specifying what that means.

It was forced to reconsider its previous approval in August 2018 when the Federal Court of Appeal found there was inadequate consultation with affected Indigenous peoples.

Iron Coalition met with Morneau earlier this year, but Wapass said he doesn’t think that gives it any advantage over Project Reconciliation.

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In May, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs warned First Nations in an open letter that they should reconsider investing in the pipeline because it faces many hurdles, including Indigenous land claims, and it is unlikely to be as profitable as the government says.

But Wapass said his group stands by its projections.

He said ownership will allow Indigenous groups to better protect the environment in which the pipeline operates.

Iron Coalition is co-chaired by Chief Calvin Bruneau of the Edmonton-area Papaschase First Nation and president Ron Quintal of the Fort McKay Metis in northern Alberta.

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