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Project Reconciliation, an Indigenous coalition to bid on ownership of the Trans Mountain pipeline and expansion, recently announced they submitted a preliminary proposal for ownership to the federal government.
The federal government has not begun a formal process to accept proposals or bids, but Project Reconciliation wants to set itself apart, said D'Arcy Levesque, the organization's vice-president of public and government affairs.
"We want to demonstrate that our model is unique, and our level of interest, and our readiness. We're clearly at the front end," he said.
On July 24, CBC reported that Project Reconciliation had submitted its proposal to the government. They did not share details of the proposal but have previously told media they planned for a $6.9-billion bid.
The first $2.3 billion would go towards 51 per cent ownership of the existing pipeline, and the rest, $4.6 billion, would go towards 51 per cent ownership of the expansion.
The coalition plans to invest 80 per cent of proceeds into a Sovereign Investment Fund for future investments, possibly including renewable energy. Levesque said they predict within 12 years they could invest over $12 billion in the fund.
The government plans to announce a panel that will lead discussions among impacted communities but hasn't yet made a timeline for formally accepting bids.
"It is too early to discuss the process by which the Government will divest itself of the Trans Mountain entities," Finance Canada wrote in a statement to National Observer.
Finance Canada said the government's priority right now is engaging with impacted communities to "seek input from Indigenous groups on ways that they could benefit."
Project Reconciliation is also conducting its own listening tour to impacted communities.
Project Reconciliation's founder and chair, Delbert Wapass, addressed the 43rd Annual Elders Gathering in Vancouver on July 25, and he talked about why he thinks the pipeline will benefit First Nations economically.
He told the crowd that while colonialism and residential schools had caused harm to Indigenous communities, leaders have to "teach our young people not to be stuck where the pain is."
He said Indigenous peoples have a long history of being "commerce people" and "good business people."
"So should economy and environment be at opposing ends, or could there be a balance between economy and environment, providing that the right stewards of this land lead it?" he asked.
Levesque said when he first spoke to the federal government, he didn't think they were open to complete Indigenous ownership. He said he was excited to hear the prime minister say he was open to "25 per cent, 50 per cent or even 100 per cent" Indigenous ownership when he announced the pipeline's approval on June 18.
"Indigenous People have been denied access to capital, not allowed to participate and have been economically starved," he said. "Ultimately, we look at reconciliation to some degree as economic self-empowerment."
Project Reconciliation still faces criticisms from Indigenous peoples and their legal counsel.
Some First Nations, like Tsleil-Waututh Nation, are committed to challenging the pipeline's approval in the Federal Court of Appeal, no matter who owns it.
Merle Alexander, a lawyer for the Shxw’ōwhámel First Nation who is also challenging the pipeline's approval, wrote on Twitter that "Project Reconciliation is flawed in their efforts to solicit any Indigenous support regardless if they are adversely impacted."
On Indigenous Peoples with Aboriginal Title and Treaty Rights should have a seat at the equity table. Project Reconciliation is flawed in their efforts to solicit any Indigenous support regardless if they are adversely impacted. https://t.co/fuhmTuZuFC— Merle C Alexander (@K2_Lawman) July 29, 2019
Others, like Anishinaabe author and activist Winona LaDuke, have argued the government is trying to "pawn off" a "bad" project on Indigenous peoples.
"It makes perfect sense that a First Nation, or coalition of First Nations should assume Canada’s debt and liability on a mega-project which will wreak environmental and economic havoc," she wrote in an op-ed for APTN.
Levesque and Finance Canada refuted that Trans Mountain is a risky investment for First Nations.
"The existing Trans Mountain pipeline has been oversubscribed since 2006. The commercial demand for the project is strong," wrote Finance Canada.
Finance Canada said Trans Mountain's consultant, Muse Stancil, has estimated the expansion will boost oil producer revenues by $73 billion over 20 years — though some critics have argued Muse's numbers are exaggerated.
Levesque also said Project Reconciliation disagrees with economic concerns.