'It hurt': First Nations leaders' pipeline ownership proposal comes as shock to some

A proposal by First Nations leaders in the Fort McMurray region to own their own pipeline has caught some community members off guard.

Community's leaders announced earlier this month that they are interested in ownership stake in pipeline

Fort Chipewyan elder Alice Rigney says that most elders in the community don't want a pipeline and that they weren't adequately consulted. (David Thurton/ CBC News)

A proposal by First Nations leaders in the Fort McMurray, Alta., region to own their own pipeline has caught some community members off guard.

The communities' leaders announced on April 6 that they either want to buy a stake in the Trans Mountain pipeline or partner and build another future line.

Chief Allan Adam said that he and other leaders of the Athabasca Tribal Council want to study the possibility of owning a pipeline, taking "a step that's going to be out of the ordinary."

"I'm a firm believer that if you own something you're going to look after [it]," he added.

For Alice Rigney, an Athabascan Chipewyan First Nation elder, the news was a surprise.

"It hurt," she said.

There's no such thing as a safe pipeline.- Alice Rigney

Rigney, 66, said that most elders in the community don't want a pipeline and that they weren't adequately consulted.

Allan Adam, chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, says the Fort McMurray region's First Nation and Métis communities back pipelines and they want to own one. (The Canadian Press)

Adam has previously said that he doesn't want to be labelled as an environmentalist, but the news was still a turnaround for a chief who has fought alongside Jane Fonda, fighting against the pace of oilsands development.

Adam said that by owning the pipeline, Indigenous people of Alberta will have control over its benefits and can ensure the environment is safeguarded.

Rigney said she believes that's too optimistic.

"There's no such thing as a safe pipeline," she said.

'I don't think it's a good idea'

Robert Grandjambe, a Fort Chipewyan resident, heard about Adam's pipeline plans through Facebook.  

"I don't think it's a good idea," Grandjambe said.

"The Aboriginal person was always regarded as custodians of the land. And we care about the environment and it's the most important thing to us. At least we're trying to let the outside world perceive that of us."

It's possible others in the community may be more supportive of a pipeline. Many people of the Athabascan Chipewyan First Nation work in the energy sector, according to elder Rigney.

Grandjambe, however, runs a small dog sled and boat tour business.

"Sure, people need jobs, but do we want jobs that are going to sustain us? Or do we want jobs that are going to make us $200,000 a year?" he said. "What is it we really want?"

Grandjambe said there's a disconnect between the leadership of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and its members, and that  "even our own elected officials don't tell us what's going on."

Eriel Deranger, the executive director of Indigenous Climate Action and a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, says that communities like hers have tried for many years to challenge oilsands projects 'with little to no actionable recourse or changes to the system.' (Kelsey Chapman)

"To be frank it's not surprising that it's come to this," said Eriel Deranger, the executive director of Indigenous Climate Action and a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation who previously worked for the nation as a communications co-ordinator.

Deranger said communities like hers have tried for many years to challenge oilsands projects "with little to no actionable recourse or changes to the system."

Adam said that the idea is still preliminary and that he and other chiefs still have to take the announcement back to their respective First Nations to seek out their approval.