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After Justin Trudeau’s surprise announcement that the Canadian government would nationalize a contentious pipeline, indigenous protestors have been among the most vocal in their opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, arguing that the project trespasses on their territory and poses a risk to the environment.

Protests led by First Nations have amplified public unease of over the mega project – which will triple the flow of bitumen from Alberta to the coastal waters of British Columbia – as the country attempts to balance its fight against climate change with an economy driven largely by the energy industry. ‘Our land is our home’: Canadians build tiny homes in bid to thwart pipeline

Read more But the project may soon find an unlikely group of investors: both the Athabasca Tribal Council and the Athabasca River Métis Council – a consortium of 10 communities – have offered to buy equity in the pipeline.

“This is not the indigenous community coming out and saying: ‘We’re pro pipeline.’ We’re pro Trans Mountain. We see the value in it,” said Ron Quintal, president of the Athabasca River Métis. “The only way we’re able to mitigate the environmental impacts is through ownership and having a say in these projects.”
The two councils recently met with federal officials, including infrastructure minister Amarjeet Sohi to discuss their proposal. Trans Mountain Expansion Project Edmonton Canada Calgary Kamloops Vancouver Victoria United States 500 km 500 miles Trans Mountain Expansion Project Edmonton Canada Calgary Kamloops Vancouver Victoria United States 500 km 500 miles Trans Mountain Expansion Project Edmonton Canada Calgary Kamloops Vancouver Victoria United States 500 km 500 miles Trans Mountain Expansion Project Edmonton Canada Calgary Kamloops Vancouver Victoria United States 500 km 500 miles Graphic: Jan Diehm/The Guardian This will not be the first time Canada’s First Nations have invested in the fossil fuel industries which have encroached on their land and disrupted traditional ways of life.

Last year, the Fort McKay First Nation and Mikisew Cree First Nation in Alberta purchased 49% of an oil storage facility – a deal worth more than half a billion dollars. Frog Lake Energy Resources Corp, an indigenous-run company, produces 3,000 barrels of oil per day.

A large source of tension around Trans Mountain project centres on the idea of unceded lands: few formal treaties were ever signed between British Columbia’s colonial settlers and the indigenous population – whose descendants argue that they retain the right to control any development .

And in a string of previous high-profile legal battles, courts have tended to recognize the broad powers of indigenous land title, giving First Nations a potential veto on development projects.

The debate over Trans Mountain has intensified after British Columbia environmental officials recently announced that a spill from the pipeline in late May, which was initially reported to be 100 litres, was in fact 48 times larger.

“Despite all this insanity that Justin Trudeau is speaking, the answer is still no, we will never allow a pipeline to come through British Columbia,” Elder Ta’ah Amy George of the costal Tsleil-Waututh said in a statement following the government purchase of the pipeline.

The pipeline’s prior owner, Texas-based Kinder Morgan, actively courted indigenous support throughout the process, promising among other incentives, royalties and environmental safeguards.

And according to Ernie Crey, chief of the Cheam First Nation, months of high-profile protests obscured the reality of support for the project.

“We learn almost daily, as other First Nations speak out about it, that they’re quite comfortable with this pipeline and they’re looking forward to the benefits that will flow from its construction in terms of training, jobs and the opportunity to engage in […]

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