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Chief Tony Alexis of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, seen here, says the idea is to concentrate on joining up indigenous communities in Alberta, where the 300,000-barrel-a-day Trans Mountain pipeline originates, and the group expects a similar effort to emerge among British Columbia First Nations that support the project.

JASON FRANSON

An Indigenous led-group in Alberta planning a bid for a stake in the Trans Mountain oil pipeline aims to use the effort as a template for future investments in other projects, one of its leaders says.

Iron Coalition rolled out details on Wednesday of its plans to invite all Alberta First Nation and Métis communities to participate in a plan to buy into the contentious pipeline to the West Coast and its $7.4-billion expansion project. Details such as the size of stake it wants and how financing would be structured have not been finalized, said coalition co-chair Tony Alexis of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation.

The idea is to concentrate on joining up communities in Alberta, where the 300,000-barrel-a-day Trans Mountain pipeline originates, and the group expects a similar effort to emerge among British Columbia First Nations that support the project, Mr. Alexis said. (Some B.C. First Nations are staunchly opposed to the planned expansion.)

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“Working together like this, I think we’ll achieve a couple things: We’ll have an opportunity to have an ownership in a project of this size, and the second thing it will do is create a standard in a way that we can bid and participate in future projects,” Mr. Alexis said in an interview.

The initiative takes a cue from traditional Indigenous life, which required self-sufficiency, he said. “The intent of any project or anything that was happening within the tribe or group was always to sustain and to grow the family, their tribe, their nation.”

Iron Coalition, led by Mr. Alexis, two other First Nation chiefs and the president of a northeastern Métis community, is among a number of Indigenous-led groups seeking ownership of large-scale energy infrastructure projects that have been delayed by regulatory and legal challenges, including from B.C. First Nations. Another bidding group, Project Reconciliation, wants 51 per cent of Trans Mountain, which Ottawa bought last year for $4.5-billion. That group’s leaders are inviting all First Nations communities in the three Western provinces to take part. It plans a syndicated debt issue, backed by shipping contracts, to finance the acquisition.

Having Indigenous ownership would be a major change for large Canadian infrastructure projects.

The federal cabinet is widely expected to announce approval of the expansion on June 18, nearly a year after the Federal Court of Appeal quashed the initial clearance to build. After that, Mr. Alexis said, Iron Coalition plans to begin detailed talks with Ottawa and investors. For financing, the group is looking at options that include partnerships with institutional investors such as pension funds, he said.

Some energy-sector executives have expressed optimism that Indigenous ownership could help break the legal logjams that have delayed major pipeline projects such as the Trans Mountain expansion, which would triple the line’s capacity to 890,000 barrels a day.

The inability to expand export capacity has created gluts of supply from the oil sands, crushed prices and prompted foreign investors to seek other places to put capital. On Wednesday, the S&P/TSX capped energy index sank 2.5 per cent to its lowest this year, although much of that was due to a 3.4-per-cent fall in the U.S. benchmark oil price, which settled at a five-month low of US$51.68 a barrel.

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Delbert Wapass, executive chairman of Project Reconciliation, said he doesn’t consider Iron Coalition to be a competitor. Instead, it shows the enthusiasm of Indigenous people to improve their economic well-being.

“I don’t think it’s a horse race. I think they recognize the fact that, as current sitting chiefs, the needs and the struggles and the stress among each First Nation,” said Mr. Wapass, a former chief of the Thunderchild First Nation in Saskatchewan.

“Just a few days ago, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report was released. They talk about a genocide. So what’s the root cause of that? For me, it’s poverty – the fact that we’ve been economically starved. If we can change that narrative by this being a means to an end … here’s a huge opportunity to do that.”

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