Indigenous Groups Contend Over Buying 51% Majority Stake in Trans Mountain

Indigenous groups continue to battle over the contentious issue of investing in the Trans Mountain Pipeline.

Last March, an Indigenous group called Project Reconciliation proposed buying a 51% stake in the Trans Mountain Pipeline. The group, composed of Indigenous communities from B.C., Alberta, and Saskatchewan, said buying a majority stake will help to alleviate poverty and gain control of possible environmental risks of the pipeline.

In an op/ed for The Province, they said neither Indigenous people nor Canadian taxpayers will have to procure the money. They offer to raise the $7.6 billion required through a bond issue underwritten by shipper contracts

They also make assurances that Indigenous people will hold no liability, quoting that the Trans Mountain Pipeline will cover that with their own insurance. The group stresses that buying a majority stake will provide a voice for Indigenous communities in pipeline decisions.

“It is critical that we as Indigenous leaders and communities play a significant role in ensuring that this work is carried out responsibly and sustainably,” the group said in the article. “We are asking Indigenous communities to carefully consider how a majority ownership of, and full participation in, a major Canadian resource development project could improve their people’s current and future prospects.”

In strong opposition is the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), who critiqued the buyout in a response letter. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, alongside secretary-treasurer Chief Judy Wilson, argue several points. They write that the pipeline is not as profitable as is promised, the oil economy is unstable, and many First Nations still oppose the pipeline, which can cause more delays and more investment.

“We urge you to … carefully consider the enormous environmental, social, legal, and political ramifications before committing to this project,” they wrote.

Another group led by Chief Michael LeBourdais of the Whispering Pines/Clinton Indian Band wants more First Nations to get on board. His band is one of the 43 First Nations that have signed mutual benefits agreements with Trans Mountain, totalling around $400 million.

He says First Nations have no power or oversight in the current climate.

“The old way of thinking is dependency, looking to Ottawa or somebody else for your livelihood,” he explains of his letter. “I want my own people looking after themselves. I want my children, my grandchildren looking after themselves. That’s who we’re doing this for.”

LeBourdais would like to see the proposal in front of Ottawa by the end of June.

The Squamish Nation has long been a strong and vocal opponent to the pipeline. Khelsilem, elected councillor and spokesperson for the Squamish Nation, says his nation is worried about the potential for Indigenous involvement.

“We continue to have great concerns around the pipeline and its impact to our territory, water, economy, and community, both in terms of safety and long term risk to the environment,” he says.

He says every First Nation should have the self-determining right to control what happens in their own territory.

“We respect the right of other First Nations to make their own decisions and they have to respect ours when we state our opposition,” he says. “They’re possibly entering into a very risky deal, given the future of the industry and the advancement of technology in green industries.”