Feds pipeline purchase helps some Indigenous leaders, worries others

“First Nations could own a pipeline.”

Some leaders see the Trudeau government’s purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline as an unprecedented “economic opportunity” for Indigenous people.

Others see it as a declaration of war.

“They don’t care about Indigenous rights, they don’t care about violating Indigenous laws or international human rights,” said anti-pipeline activist Kanahus Manuel, who tweeted as much Tuesday.

“What they’re looking at is about money and they’re looking at their pocketbook.”

But Allan Adam, chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation near Fort McMurray, Alberta, thinks there’s room for compromise.

“First Nations could own a pipeline,” Adam said in a telephone interview.

“It opens the door for Crown-Aboriginal relations for reconciliation.”

Adam said the government’s decision to buy the pipeline and related infrastructure for $4.5 billion – and spend billions more to expand it through Alberta and B.C. – opens the door for Indigenous development.

“That’s the angle I see coming. First Nations leaders have to be open-minded in the broader sense and take every opportunity that comes before them.”

Ernie Crey, chief of the Cheam First Nation in the B.C. interior, agreed.

“I’m happy it’s getting the green light,” said Crey, who has been outspoken in his support of the project.

“We’re interested in taking out a stake in the pipeline.”

Of course, not all B.C. chiefs think the same way. Many along the 1,150-km pipeline path support it as a way to deliver Alberta crude to an ocean port and on to foreign markets.

But those on the west coast worry about a spill.

“The bands themselves hold jurisdiction over their reserves,” said Chief Judy Wilson of the Neskonlith band near Chase, B.C.

Wilson, who spoke against the mega-project on environmental grounds to the pipeline’s private shareholders in Texas earlier this month, says pushing ahead shows Liberal politicians are more interested in creating jobs than respecting Indigenous rights.

“The opposition will continue,” she said. “This has been a critically important issue to many of our nations.”

Already 200 people have been arrested in varying protests in B.C.

Chief Bob Chamberlin, a member of the Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation, was even stronger in denouncing the expansion of the pipeline, on which Finance Minister Bill Morneau says construction could begin immediately.

“I have a great sense of disappointment in the Canadian government for this decision,” he told APTN News.

“It’s clear that there is not consent for this across First Nations’ territory.”

Chamberlin and Wilson are executive members of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, which may represent bands with conflicting views but holds unanimous resolutions against growing the pipeline on their lands.

“There’s a deeper awareness amongst Canadians now about how this Liberal government has not lived up to the commitments that it’s made,” Chamberlin added.

Morneau said his government did not want to own the pipeline long term. He said it would sell to a new owner or owners and invite investors like pension funds and Indigenous groups to buy in.

One of those groups is the Métis Nation, said David Chartrand, who praised Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for his pipeline leadership.

“It’s a benefit not only to Canadians but to Indigenous people,” said the president of the Manitoba Métis Federation.

Chartrand said deals with pipeline companies can lead to prosperity for Indigenous communities and jobs for the long term in construction and monitoring.

In turn, Indigenous people would keep an eye on the environment.

“There’s two ways to look at this and people need to understand that,” he said. “It takes resources to rebuild the environment through the tax base.

“The money’s not just going to come out of trees.”

Still, Chartrand has been called a sell-out in a letter signed by prominent Métis people across Canada.

Manuel, whose late father Arthur Manuel is credited with identifying the federal government as an enemy of Indigenous people, says a new owner won’t change what she’s been doing in opposition.

“We were going up against Kinder Morgan. Now we’re up against the feds,” she said.

Adam is taking heat for flip flopping on oil economics but says it makes sense to him. He’s got people who need jobs and others he says are suffering health effects from the product in the ground.

“I’ve been chief for 10 years and – if talks go the right way – we need to see some benefits. Maybe let’s take a look at ownership of a pipeline.”

But Wilson predicts showdowns along the route that will pit Indigenous people against each other.

“There’s a bigger issue here,” she said.

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