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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA PRINCE RUPERT FERRY TERMINAL credit Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities

'Extraction" should not have become a bad word. Canada needs to export oil and gas, even when energy prices are low. But it's getting hard to complete a pipeline project, although everybody agrees that pipelines are safer than rail. For example, the Northern Gateway project was approved more than a year ago, subject to 209 conditions, but not much progress seems to be happening.

Understandably, people in heavily populated areas are not keen to have new pipelines as neighbours. In less populated places, aboriginal communities are often opposed, and their tragic past and present attract the support of other Canadians, too.

But native peoples quite rightly want to thrive economically, too. That obvious truth should point to the fact that First Nations ought to have a stake in some pipeline projects. A natural way to bring that about would be for First Nations to have equity in some pipelines, whether as communities or individuals, especially when a project is in their traditional territory.

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That is the premise on which Eagle Spirit Energy Holdings Ltd. is working. Calvin Helin, a coastal Tsimshian who is the president of Eagle Spirit, says the company has at least a degree of approval of aboriginal chiefs all along the pipeline route it proposes, from Alberta to Prince Rupert, B.C., on the West Coast.

The Aquilini Group, which owns among other things the Vancouver Canucks, is the main investor. Hitherto, most of Aquilini's interests have been in real-estate development and construction. Presumably, other companies with experience in oil and gas and pipelines could become involved.

To say all this is not to endorse any particular project, and Eagle Spirit's own plans don't seem far advanced. But the concept of issuing shares – and in due course dividends – to First Nations carries great promise.

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