As former First Nations chiefs in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan, we feel we have spent much of our careers managing issues related to Indigenous poverty. So it will come as no surprise that we feel strongly that it’s time that we, as First Nations, turn our focus and attention to fostering our economic independence through wealth creation rather than relying on the public treasury for our livelihoods. As the Indigenous leadership team heading up Project Reconciliation, an initiative to buy a majority stake in the Trans Mountain Pipeline (TMX), we think it’s timely that we describe the project and what we hope to achieve.
Like many Canadians, we recognize the importance of moving energy products to the global market. It’s well-documented that Canada leaves as much as $80 million a day on the table simply because we are forced to sell our energy products to one customer at a huge discount. It’s just not fair. Access to markets could solve a significant national problem.
Since many of our First Nations in Western Canada have long been involved in the oil and gas sector, it seems a perfect fit for us to participate in the TMX project as a means of both supporting our communities through the resource sector and insisting on environmental protections of air, land and water.
Project Reconciliation is an innovative, inclusive, non-partisan and Indigenous-led group that exists solely to enable Indigenous communities in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan to collectively buy and maintain ownership of a majority stake in TMX. We think our plan will result in the most responsible outcome for all concerned, including the environment.
First, our plan involves no financial risk to Indigenous communities who may choose to invest, and no financial risk at all for Canadian taxpayers. How can we offer this? We propose to raise the $7.6 billion needed to buy a majority stake in the TMX through a bond issue underwritten mostly by shipper contracts. No upfront cash will be required from Indigenous community investors as the initial investment obligation will be paid down over time from a portion of the regular returns we will earn from our investment.
Second, our plan involves no liability risk to the Indigenous communities who may choose to invest. As with any other pipeline, TMX will carry insurance that covers the costs of an incident, should one occur. And, as is the case with any other investor, participating Indigenous communities will not be held financially responsible or liable.
Third, our plan gives Indigenous communities a formidable say — as majority owners — in how the TMX expansion project is to be constructed and operated, ensuring the highest standards for climate change, safety, and marine and environmental response. We foresee that the production and export of oil will remain part of Canada’s energy portfolio for some time to come — and as B.C.’s coastline is home to more than 135 First Nations communities — 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.
Just one example of Indigenous participation along the B.C. coast that our plan would embrace — in addition to tough federal and provincial regulations — is a program of the First Nations Fisheries Council, a collaborative body among First Nations and government. The fisheries council has established the Marine and Environmental Response Program to train and certify as many as 144 entry-level marine and environmental response workers in coastal First Nations’ communities and to connect them to employment opportunities across the marine sector.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, through an innovative sovereign wealth fund that Project Reconciliation will oversee, participating Indigenous communities will share in, and grow the wealth that a TMX investment will generate. By continually reinvesting the majority of the sovereign wealth funds into sustainable infrastructure projects, we will pave the way for true reconciliation through self-determined generational wealth, poverty elimination and future projects that lessen our environmental footprint and lead in the transition to a lower carbon economy. Examples of projects we may consider investing in include energy-efficient housing or renewable energy installations in our communities.
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. Our plan represents a $7.6-billion example of how reconciliation could give participating Indigenous communities the opportunity to begin managing their wealth rather than their poverty.
It’s an idea whose time has come.
Delbert Wapass is former chief, Thunderchild First Nation, and vice-chair and Indian Resource Council; Wallace Fox is former chief, Onion Lake Cree Nation, and chair of the Indian Resource Council; Shane Gottfriedson is former chief, Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc, former tribal chief, Shuswap Nation, and former B.C. regional chief.