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A new group has emerged to pursue an Indigenous ownership stake in the Trans Mountain oil pipeline, saying it wants to maximize economic opportunities for First Nations along the route through a non-profit, consensus-based approach.

“Our main intent, our goal, is to provide support for communities and negotiate the best transaction possible to purchase TMX,” said Tony Alexis, who is chief of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation in Alberta and founding director of Nesika Services.

Nesika, a federal non-profit incorporated last November, publicly announced its plans Monday, saying it wants to bring communities together to explore equity and revenue-sharing opportunities in oil pipeline.

Nesika currently has 14 Indigenous groups as members and is reaching out to the rest of the 129 communities that have been identified along the pipeline route, Mr. Alexis said.

Nesika is not affiliated with industry or financial backers, but wants to help communities along the route strike the best possible deal that will bring economic benefits and reflect environmental concerns, he added.

“For us, it’s an opportunity to take the most responsible step possible, to be at that table, to make sure we are there and that over the lifetime of this pipeline, that we’ll have a governance seat at this table,” Mr. Alexis said.

Mr. Alexis was previously involved with another Alberta-based group, called the Iron Coalition, that had expressed interest in acquiring a stake in the pipeline but is no longer active. The difference between the two models is that Nesika is a non-profit, Mr. Alexis said.

“Nesika is not seeking or receiving any profits from this transaction … we are helping Indigenous communities and leaders come up with a transaction and making sure that is shared across the board with everyone,” he said.

Nesika joins several other groups that are pursuing Indigenous ownership stakes in the Trans Mountain expansion project, which would nearly triple the capacity of the existing pipeline to 890,000 barrels a day.

The project has faced court challenges and opposition from First Nations and environmental groups over concerns including increased tanker traffic on the West Coast.

Ottawa paid Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd. $4.5-billion for Trans Mountain in 2018, as the company prepared to halt the expansion project because of regulatory and court delays. A year later, Calgary-based Pembina Pipeline Corp. bought the remainder of Kinder Morgan Canada and other assets from its U.S. parent company.

The federal government has said it wants to sell the project back to the private sector and is open to ownership by Indigenous groups.

In 2021, Pembina formed a 50-50 partnership with Western Indigenous Pipeline Group, or WIPG, a coalition of First Nations and Métis representatives from communities along the 1,150-kilometre route of the pipeline in Alberta and British Columbia. The partnership is called Chinook Pathways and has stated it wants to acquire a 100-per-cent stake in the pipeline.

Western Indigenous Pipeline Group did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Project Reconciliation, which is based in Calgary, has also expressed interest.

Stephen Mason, senior managing director of Project Reconciliation, on Monday said the group has spent several years developing its proposal and considers itself the front-runner when it comes to putting together an Indigenous ownership coalition.

Project Reconciliation has lined up financing, worked out a governance model and is ready to negotiate with the federal government, Mr. Mason said.

“We’re very much governance-ready, in terms of having that opportunity for 129 potential owners to have a place at the table,” he said.

The federal government does not intend to be the long-term owner of Trans Mountain Corp. and intends to launch a divestment process after the expansion project is further de-risked and after engagement with Indigenous groups has concluded, Adrienne Vaupshas, press secretary for the Minister of Finance, said Monday in an e-mail.

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