First Nations leaders in Western Canada are proposing a corridor for transporting commodities from the region and — possibly — to the West Coast.
The goal is to establish a route for pipelines or rail lines to ship oil and other materials.
Treaty 8 leaders, who represent 40 First Nations in Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories, are already having talks with provincial and federal government ministers about the proposal.
At this time, the route is still under discussion, but access to the West Coast is a priority so commodities can be exported. That would require working with coastal communities outside of Treaty 8.
"It would go west. That's what we're working on. It's in the discussion phase, but it's gaining momentum with the chiefs," said Arthur Noskey, Grand Chief of Treaty 8 First Nations.
"At the end of the day, when this is approved, there will be pipeline access. There will be railroad access if need be. The First Nations will benefit from it, that I can say."
For much of the past decade, attempts to build new pipelines from Alberta to the coast have either failed or faced delays.
For instance, Enbridge's Northern Gateway project was shelved and Kinder Morgan sold the Trans Mountain expansion to the federal government, in part because of Indigenous opposition.
The Coastal GasLink project created national attention last summer after several Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs opposed the pipeline's route through disputed land. Despite several disruptions, construction continues on the project.
The proposed passageway would avoid such conflict, say leaders.
"When this agreement is in place, there won't be any First Nations protesting or blocking. That would be the social licence that the chiefs will have to work on and achieve," said Noskey.
"The reason why investors basically are shy about investing in Canada is because of the Wet'suwet'en and the process that escalated into. So we're trying to reassure the investors that, yes, you can still invest in Treaty 8 territory."
Leaders say they would require the highest environmental protection for their land, while also ensuring a benefit to all people belonging to Treaty 8.
"It's definitely a work in progress, but we have unity. We have unity right now within the Treaty 8 governments," said Chief Isaac Laboucan-Avirom of the Woodland Cree First Nation, in northern Alberta.
"There's a need to get the economy stimulated again. People want to get back to work."
A few years ago, some First Nations supported building four pipelines from Fort McMurray to the West Coast, but the Eagle Spirit project was cancelled after the federal government passed Bill C-48, which banned oil tankers from docking along B.C.'s north coast.
In the last federal election, the Conservatives proposed a national energy corridor across the country.
The Treaty 8 leaders say their corridor could provide access for a number of different projects, such as electricity transmission lines and fibre optic cables.
"Our government remains fully committed to responsible economic development in partnership with Indigenous peoples. Good projects can only be built in a good way, and with meaningful consultation with Indigenous communities," said Ian Cameron, spokesperson for federal minister of natural resources, Seamus O'Regan.
Next steps include establishing a corporate structure and naming a CEO in order for the corridor to move from being an idea to an actual project.
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