Our Executive Chair and Founder, Delbert Wapass, reacts to the federal government's approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. He wrote a column in the Parliamentary newspaper the Hill Times about what a sea change in thinking Indigenous ownership represents.
Not too long ago, news stories about Indigenous peoples and natural resources development all seemed to have a familiar ring. A new oil or gas project would be announced. Indigenous peoples would be in the news opposing it. And then it would disappear from the headlines until the next project was announced—when the cycle would repeat itself.
Things needed to change and they have. Look no further than the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion for proof. Because along with growing Indigenous support for the expansion, there’s growing Indigenous interest in owning it.
I founded one of the Indigenous groups that wants to do just that, Project Reconciliation, for one simple reason. It was clear the usual approach of opposition and rage wasn’t working. All it led to was managing more poverty, when what Indigenous peoples needed to do was manage more wealth. If you don’t like where you are, you need to go somewhere else and for me, finding a way for Indigenous peoples to benefit more from resources found beneath traditional lands only makes sense.
So it was glad to hear the prime minister agree when he announced the government had approved the Trans Mountain expansion once more. Justin Trudeau—and Andrew Scheer—had previously been supportive of Indigenous involvement in resource development. But never before had he been so clear that an Indigenous ownership stake was possible. Nor had he hinted at the possible scale: possibly up to 100 per cent.
This represents nothing more than a sea change in thinking. On the government’s part, certainly, but also among Indigenous communities. Because Trudeau wasn’t speaking in theory when he raised the possibility. He was responding to the growing interest shown from groups like ours in seizing the opportunity before us to improve Indigenous lives across the West.
There are, I should say, other Indigenous groups interested in taking an ownership stake beyond ours. It might surprise you that I welcome them and hope we can find ways to work together. That’s another indicator of the new thinking that Indigenous people can bring to the table.
Speaking for Project Reconciliation, however, we propose an innovative ownership structure. Almost 340 First Nations and Métis communities across Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan would be eligible to join the ownership structure. It would need financing, something major financial institutions, the Government of Alberta, and now the federal government seem open to. But this financing would also be backed by long-term shipping contracts.
We project an expanded Trans Mountain pipeline could generate about $250 million a year in profit. Some of this would be returned to participating communities to improve themselves with better housing, improved infrastructure, or higher education. We’d put about 80 per cent into a Sovereign Wealth Reconciliation Fund, similar to a pension fund, to invest and create a larger pool, which in time would return more revenue to participating communities.
In this way, the expanded pipeline wouldn’t only benefit all Canadians by allowing us to fetch higher prices for our resources through diversifying markets. It would also specifically benefit Indigenous people by creating multi-generational wealth—which would allow us to move from a place we don’t want to be to one that’s better.
A majority ownership stake would also allow us to enhance environmental protection. Wherever I go, I hear how important salmon habitat, the ocean, and traditional lands are. I believe Indigenous ownership would deliver improved oversight, and would help in increasing support for the pipeline’s expansion.
That possibilities like these are a growing part of the conversation is testament to how far we’ve come. As Indigenous peoples, and also as a country. Every day, more people say they think Indigenous ownership of TMX is an idea whose time has come. As for me, I say it’s becoming increasingly clear there’s a pipeline to reconciliation. We should take it.
Former Chief Delbert Wapass is Executive Chair and Founder of Project Reconciliation.