Stephen Buffalo, president, and CEO of the Indian Resource Council of Canada, an organization with over 130 First Nations that are part of oil and gas producing territories, says that the majority of the nations represented by his organization are interested in buying the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion.
Tribal leaders from across Canada are meeting at the sold-out Indigenous Energy Summit January 16 and 17 at the Grey Eagle Event Centre, at the Tsuut'ina Nation in Alberta, which is just outside of Calgary.
As previously reported in Indian Country Today, in July of 2018, the Canadian government became the official owner of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion after Kinder Morgan failed to secure an alternate buyer after the initial offer from Ottawa. Kinder Morgan had been actively seeking to find an alternate buyer with a deadline of July 22nd.
Opposers to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion have been furious at the expansion in the light of environmental strains due to Oil Sands extraction. The project is a roughly 715-mile (1,150 kilometer) pipeline parallel to the original that will carry unrefined oil products from Edmonton to Burnaby and will triple the original pipeline’s capacity to an estimated 890,000 barrels a day.
At a press conference at the Assembly of First Nations on May 2, 2018 Squamish Nation council member Khelsilem, stated strong opposition to the project stating “Our people are willing to put our lives on the line.”
In the CBC article Wednesday, Khelsilem stated that the Canadian federal government had a responsibility to honor the rights of First Nations people but hasn’t demonstrated it. He also noted that regardless of who owns the pipeline expansion, the route of the pipeline was the problem.
"The reality is, if they want to build this pipeline they have to come through our titled land. That is our land. They don't have the right to say anything about what happens on our territory just like we don't have the right to say what happens to theirs," Khelsilem said.
In an interview with the CBC, Buffalo said First Nation people still suffer from extreme poverty and that ownership of the Trans Mountain project would provide economic development that could be monitored by Indigenous people.
"We all want a safe and proper environment; the environment is so key … But we can continue to still do some economic development and have that balance. And that's what we need to strive for — to find that balance."
"Our job right now is to get the chiefs together and the leadership together to help make a consensus to ensure we're all on the same page. We're all looking for something to get out of poverty." Buffalo told the CBC.
Other indigenous leaders have also said they want to own the pipeline to include Mikisew Cree First Nation Chief Archie Waquan, who told the CBC “First Nations should be the owners of Trans Mountain,” as well as leaders of the Whispering Pines First Nation.
Trans Mountain, one of the Indigenous Energy Summit’s Gold Sponsors, states on their ‘Indigenous Peoples’ website page, “43 Indigenous Groups Have Signed Agreements in Support of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project.”
The site page also states:
For the Project since 2012, we have sought to meaningfully engage with Indigenous communities through more than 30,000 points of contact. We will continue to engage with communities in Alberta and British Columbia.
In a ‘Message From the President” opening letter contained in the Indian Resource Council’s, Indigenous Energy Summit program, Buffalo, the President, and CEO shared his thoughts about the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion and announced his intentions for First Nations to buy the project from the Canadian government.
He writes in part:
There are many, many moving parts on this topic as we know, and everyone - indigenous people, industry, Governments - all of us - are getting really impatient, restless and angry. There are demonstrations all over the country, both for and against pipelines and other linear projects.
There is no shortage of blames and finger-pointing. The people of Alberta are livid, and rightly so, as they see the industry that has been their bread and butter for decades wither in front of their own eyes. The amount of revenues Alberta is losing daily – over $80M – due to the pipeline gridlock and price differentials is staggering.
The environmentalists and their supporters celebrate each time the Courts put a kibosh on pipelines such as what happened with the Court of Appeal decision on TMX. In the meantime, our Liberal Government appears clueless on a way forward. Sure, they have put together some sort of plan to address the two important issues raised by the court on TMX – indigenous consultation and marine impact considerations – but they have failed to provide a coherent plan on how they will build the pipeline that they now own.
Our organization – the Indian Resource Council (IRC) – advocates on behalf of over 130 First Nations across Canada that have oil and gas rights and interests on their reserve lands as well on traditional lands. Many of these First Nations rely on their oil and gas resources as an additional source of revenues, employment, and other benefits. Some have developed successful and very productive business relationships with mainstream industry. So, when the oil and gas industry experiences these terrible headwinds, many of these First Nations feel the effect first hand. As Chief Roy Fox of Kainai Nation recently stated in his letter to the Prime Minister, the differential-related cuts and lack of pipeline capacity and proposed restrictive legislation such as Bill C-69 will cost every family on his Nation approx. $1,400 per year, a huge loss for a Nation that is already battling poverty and other challenges. Other producing FNs are experiencing similar problems.
So, the IRC has decided to lend its voice to this important discourse. We have published several op-eds in the National newspapers and given many interviews to the media. Our message is simple: We support responsible energy development including pipelines that involve and provide significant benefits to Indigenous people. We obviously care about the environment perhaps more so than the professional environmentalists who claim to speak for us. THEY DO NOT.
We want to be an equal and respected partner in this industry, so meaningful consultations are absolutely essential. Finally, we want the opportunity to own the pipeline on our own or in partnership with others. It is important that we have a voice of reason, one that provides credence to these ideas. I am hoping this conference will offer a realistic road map and strategy that will benefit all of us.
In a promotional video by the Indian Resource Council on YouTube, which describes the duties of the organization, the founding chairman and past president of the IRC, Joe Dion, Kehewin First Nation, summed up the sentiments of the organization:
"We are owners of this country, we are the nation builders of this country. We now as leaders should be at the forefront.We are working with governments, we are working with the industry to build this country on the condition that we now share the resources going forward. We are not just Reserve people, we are the people of Canada."
Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter - @VinceSchilling