Premier Jason Kenney said partnering with Alberta First Nations in resource development is an “economic and moral imperative,” kicking off a Monday meeting with dozens of Indigenous leaders.
“There are still too many (Indigenous) Albertans who live in poverty, who do not enjoy the prosperity of this province,” he said at Government House, speaking after an hours-long meeting with chiefs and proxy chiefs from the majority of the province’s 48 First Nations. “It was a very positive and constructive atmosphere.”
Participants discussed the $1-billion Indigenous Opportunities Corporation (rebranded from the Aboriginal Opportunities Corporation), which was promised by the UCP during the election campaign.
Grand Chief of Treaty 6 First Nations of Alberta Wilton Littlechild said the gathering was a chance to discuss economic opportunities, a topic he said is too often overlooked.
“It’s not ‘no’ to any development, or ‘yes’ to all development,” he told reporters after the meeting. “We need to seek a balance … and that’s been the approach of those successful First Nations.”
Kenney has said the proposed Crown corporation would provide technical support on major project opportunities and access to capital markets through loan guarantees or co-invested debt and equity lending from the Alberta government.
Indigenous groups have shown interest in buying a stake of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which was bought by Ottawa last year for $4.5 billion in a move to protect the beleaguered expansion project. He said the corporation could potentially benefit Indigenous groups that need access to capital.
“There are at least four consortiums of First Nations who are discussing the possibility of an ownership stake in the Trans Mountain pipeline,” Kenney said. “I would encourage those different groups to try to work together.”
He said he doesn’t want to “pick winners and losers.
“The whole idea we had was really inspired by their efforts to take an ownership stake.”
Kenney has also said the cash for the corporation would come from cancelling the NDP government’s planned $3.7-billion rail lease, with an initial investment of $24 million over four years and $1 billion earmarked for backstop financing.
Grand Chief of Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta Arthur Noskey said Monday was a “good day.
“I believe we have a premier at the table, with cabinet support, that is willing to address the issues that we’ve faced in the past,” he said.
“A priority for me under the $1-billion fund is basically how does the Treaty 8 First Nations benefit on a collective front,” he added.
In his opening remarks Monday afternoon, Kenney said cabinet members — including Energy Minister Sonya Savage, Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson, Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen and Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon — were there to “listen in a spirit of humility.”
The premier also referenced difficulties First Nations communities face when accessing mental health, education and training services.
“We don’t want First Nations people falling between the cracks,” he said.
‘We stand here today on Treaty 6 territory’
Kenney started the meeting with a land acknowledgment — the symbolic opening has been a point of controversy recently.
“We meet today on lands that were the home of Alberta’s first peoples for millennia, before the Dominion of Canada and First Nations came together in a spirit of peaceful co-operation under the great treaties that enjoined the Crown eternally to respect and uphold the rights, privileges and traditions of Indigenous communities in Alberta,” he said.
“We stand here today on Treaty 6 territory, traditional lands of both First Nations and of Metis people.”
Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson said there’s no set policy for making land acknowledgments, which was standard practice under the NDP.
The statements aim to recognize the connection of different First Nations and Métis to the land while acknowledging treaties between First Nations and the Crown. Alberta is located on Treaty 6, Treaty 7 and Treaty 8 territory.