Alberta Indigenous groups want to buy equity share in Trans Mountain pipeline

Indigenous groups in the Fort McMurray region have put governments on notice they want to buy an equity share in the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline.

Groups hand-delivered a letter to Alberta Premier Rachel Notley when she visited Fort McMurray on Thursday

A group of men wearing safety vests handle a piece of pipe for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
Indigenous groups in the Fort McMurray region say they want to buy an equity share in the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline. (CBC)

Indigenous groups in the Fort McMurray region of Alberta have put governments on notice they want to buy an equity share in the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline.

While Premier Rachel Notley was in Fort McMurray doing a victory lap after the federal government agreed to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline, Indigenous leaders released a statement that they intended to buy an equity stake in the line. 

"You know, in order for us to be successful, we need to move the oil," Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam said after the premier spoke. 

The Indigenous groups hand-delivered a letter to Notley during their scheduled meeting with the premier. 

Notley said interest from a variety of groups is to be expected in the pipeline and she doesn't doubt, in the spirit of reconciliation, the federal government will consider business proposals from Indigenous groups.

"I'm encouraged to see what we have always known to be the case, that many First Nations and Indigenous leaders across this country see our resources as being a source of income," Notley said.

Chiefs and heads of the Athabasca Tribal Council and the Athabasca River Métis Council pose after a meeting in April at Fort McMurray's Raddison Hotel, where they announced they are willing invest in pipelines. (David Thurton/CBC)

The Indigenous coalition also sent a letter to Finance Minister Bill Morneau after meeting with federal ministers Amarjeet Sohi and Ralph Goodale on Wednesday. 

Earlier this week, the federal government announced it will spend $4.5 billion to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline and related infrastructure, and it will also take on construction of the pipeline to the west coast.

The government has also said it is interested in finding a new buyer to operate the pipeline.

Indigenous groups in Alberta and B.C. and pension funds have expressed interest in purchasing the pipeline from the government.

'No bad pipelines,' just 'bad operators' 

The Alberta Indigenous groups represent five First Nations that form part of the Athabasca Tribal Council, and five that form part of the Athabasca River Métis.

All but the Fort McKay First Nation signed the letter, said Ron Quintal, president of the Athabasca River Métis.

The coalition said it wants to buy an equity share in the pipeline to help secure the economic future of their communities.

Many of the region's First Nations and Métis groups already own companies involved in the oilsands.

The Fort Mckay First Nation and the Mikisew Cree First Nation purchased a 49 per cent share in a Suncor tank farm in November.

The groups said they want a seat at the table to ensure the pipeline is built with the highest respect for the environment.

"There are no bad pipelines from our perspective," Quintal said. "There are bad operators. So from our perspective, it is not just about buying in to become fiscally sustainable. It's so we can be environmentally sustainable."

The leaders said they'll only buy into the pipeline after consultation with their members and their elders. 

Connect with David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn or email him at david.thurton@cbc.ca


David Thurton

Senior reporter, Parliamentary Correspondent

David Thurton is a senior reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He covers daily politics in the nation’s capital and specializes in environment and energy policy. Born in Canada but raised in Trinidad and Tobago, he’s moved around more times than he can count. He’s worked for CBC in several provinces and territories, including Alberta and the Northwest Territories. He can be reached at david.thurton@cbc.ca