In 2013, when Kinder Morgan formally expressed intentions to expand the Trans Mountain pipeline, it set in motion actions and reactions by many competing interests.
Besides creating controversy, the event stirred Indigenous interest in the pipeline expansion project. Five years later, in 2018, the pipeline was sold to the federal government for C$4.5bn.
On the same day, the Federal Court of Appeal overturned the government’s approval of the expansion and a re-initiation of phase three consultations with Indigenous groups impacted by the pipeline spurred even more interest in the pipeline.
In the next four years, several Indigenous-led ownership groups emerged, expressing the desire to purchase Trans Mountain with the Iron Coalition, Project Reconciliation, and the Western Indigenous Pipeline Group being the most publicized.
However, suggestions of an Indigenous or First Nations equity stake in a Canadian pipeline date back to 2002 according to a Fraser Institute report when offers emerged in connection with the second attempt to construct a Mackenzie Valley natural gas pipeline. According to the report, Indigenous ownership was also part of Northern Gateway project discussions in 2014 and was a late add-on to the trans-border Keystone XL proposal in 2020 as reported by the Canadian Press.
First Nations discussions and agreements have long been part of Trans Mountain’s history dating back to Kinder Morgan days with a 2014 signing of a mutual benefits agreement (MBA) regarding the Trans Mountain Expansion Project between the Paul First Nation and Kinder Morgan.
As of November 30, 2021, Trans Mountain has signed 67 Agreements with 73 Indigenous groups in BC and Alberta that represent more than C$580mn in benefits and opportunities for Indigenous communities.
A New Approach
Earlier this week a new group emerged with a new approach to facilitate Indigenous ownership of the Trans Mountain pipeline on January 24. The group, Nesika Services (Nesika), is a not-for-profit coalition of Indigenous communities with a grass-roots consultation approach that has garnered the support of 14 communities along the route already.
What is new about this group, is that they clearly state they will not receive or seek any profit from their endeavours to consult and support communities. The other new element according to Chief Tony Alexis, Nesika Chair and elected Chief of Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation is that “the Federal government has intimated or implied on a few occasions that the pipeline may finally be for sale.”
Alexis says the goal of Nesika is to help facilitate the purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline for the communities along the pipeline route. It was founded by Chief Tony Alexis, Chief Alice McKay of Matsqui First Nation, Councillor David Walkem of Cook’s Ferry Indian Band, and Mark Peters from Peters First Nation. The organization includes 14 communities impacted by the line.
Broader and informed communications
Alexis says the federal government has engaged with 29 communities regarding the pipeline over the last few years, including consultations. However, Nesika Services intends to consult with at least 129 communities that they have identified as impacted Indigenous communities who have an economic interest in the Trans Mountain Pipeline including groups that may be under-represented.
Alexis says the consultation process has already begun.
“We have issued a membership call. We ask community respondents to sign a non-binding letter of intent which empowers them to attend meetings and have discussions to become familiar with some of the issues around the economic benefits of ownership. We want to enable communities to make informed decisions. We also offer that a community can be a part of a board by signing a memorandum of understanding.”
As stated on the Nesika website- the group is committed to finding a common solution for impacted communities by building trust and respect through open and transparent dialogue. A promise to seek an outcome that equally values environment and governance alongside economic benefits is one of its five value propositions.
Preparing for the Federal government to come to the table
“There are ongoing discussions with Canadian government representatives focused on engagement but the government has not shared their terms and conditions as of yet,” says Alexis.
“In preparation for talks, we are helping the communities prepare for a well-structured transaction. We will not seek or receive any profits from the transaction, and we do not have any predetermined operating partner or financial backing from the banks yet. We do expect Canada will be a part of the financing solution. We’ve also had discussions with national international infrastructure investors.”
Alexis points out that Nesika has had a lot of immediate interest expressed since they issued their press release. He sees the initiative as bringing benefits to Indigenous groups- environmental and economic benefits which will bring resources to the community to help build infrastructure, or programs and services, saying:
“Our goal is to build trust and respect through open and transparent dialogue. So we seek to empower communities to make their own informed decisions. We hope to support communities to structure a deal.”
Maureen McCall is an energy professional who writes on issues affecting the energy industry