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The head of an Indigenous group will be organizing efforts by elected chiefs to buy into TransCanada Corp.'s Coastal GasLink pipeline project in British Columbia, pitting them against protesters led by hereditary leaders.

Karen Ogen-Toews, chief executive of the First Nations LNG Alliance, said on Tuesday that the natural gas pipeline’s economic spinoffs are crucial to raising the standard of living for Indigenous people along the 670-kilometre route.

She served from 2010 to 2016 as the elected chief councillor of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation (formerly known as the Broman Lake Indian Band), which is one of five elected Wet’suwet’en Nation band councils along the route that support Coastal GasLink.

But five prominent Wet’suwet’en Nation hereditary chiefs have led a campaign to oppose Coastal GasLink, and they have garnered growing support from environmental groups and an array of Canadian indie music stars and Hollywood celebrities.

The $6.2-billion pipeline project, wholly owned by Calgary-based TransCanada mostly through CGL LP, would run from northeastern B.C. to a liquefied natural gas terminal on the West Coast to be built by the LNG Canada consortium led by Royal Dutch Shell PLC.

“The thought of First Nations taking a stake in the Coastal GasLink pipeline is well worth pursuing, since the elected councils of all 20 First Nations on the pipeline route have approved the pipeline, and others have endorsed the LNG Canada project that it will feed,” Ms. Ogen-Toews said in an e-mailed statement. “All these Nations see responsible LNG development in B.C. as a way out of poverty, as a source of revenues that will enable Nations to tackle their huge social issues, and as a path towards employment, education, income, self-government and economic reconciliation.”

She made the comments after Coastal GasLink said in a recent filing to the National Energy Board that TransCanada has hired RBC Capital Markets to manage the sale of a majority stake in Coastal GasLink. “Third-party joint venture partners could acquire up to 75 per cent of CGL LP interests," Coastal GasLink told the NEB.

TransCanada spokesman Terry Cunha said on Tuesday that company officials “are in the early stages of discussions as we seek investors to take a stake in CGL.”

Industry experts say elected councils could end up buying a total of 10 per cent of the line. Each of the 20 elected councils along the route will make their own decision on whether to become equity partners in the pipeline, Ms. Ogen-Toews said.

“It will obviously take time to explore the potential for First Nations to invest in the Coastal GasLink line,” she said.

Crystal Smith, chief councillor of the Haisla Nation, said in an interview that her council will participate in efforts by the First Nations LNG Alliance to marshal support for becoming equity partners in Coastal GasLink.

The Haisla council backs Coastal GasLink and also LNG Canada, which plans to build an $18-billion export terminal in Kitimat on an industrial site located on the Haisla’s traditional territory.

The Unist’ot’en protest camp, however, is fighting Coastal GasLink’s plans to construct a section that crosses into the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s unceded territory. Unist’ot’en is affiliated with Dark House, one of 13 hereditary house groups within the Wet’suwet’en Nation.

The Unist’ot’en blockade on a bridge in the B.C. Interior came down on Jan. 11 after the RCMP and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs agreed to a deal to comply with an interim court injunction.

“Coastal GasLink/TransCanada has not received free, prior, and informed consent from or made any agreement with our hereditary chiefs to do work on Wet’suwet’en lands,” Unist’ot’en supporters said in a statement this week.

The B.C. Energy Ministry said on Tuesday that it is aware that TransCanada intends to sell a portion of the pipeline project, and added: “A change in ownership of the pipeline does not change the requirements and obligations of the environmental assessment certificate or authorized permits issued for this project.”

Dark House is led by Chief Knedebeas, who also goes by Warner William. Besides his role as a hereditary house chief, he is also an elected councillor of the Witset band, where a majority of councillors voted to support Coastal GasLink.

Coastal GasLink said in court filings that it has sought unsuccessfully to consult with Freda Huson, an Unist’ot’en camp spokeswoman who is also an elected Witset councillor: “Coastal GasLink has contacted Ms. Huson personally in her capacity as a contact person for Dark House over 40 times and has requested meetings with her at least seven times since 2014."

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