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Former Tk'emlups chief heads bid to buy Trans Mountain pipeline

Shane Gottfriedson is now B.C. director of Project Reconciliation, which hopes to lead the effort to acquire a majority stake in the pipeline
Where Are They Now? Shane Gottfriedson
Shane Gottfriedson is now running the Tim Hortons outlet in the Tk’emlups reserve, just steps from the office he used to occupy as chief of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation. Gottfriedson is also B.C. director of Project Reconciliation, which hopes to lead the effort to acquire a majority stake in Trans Mountain.

There are as many as a half-dozen Indigenous groups interested in an equity stake in the Trans Mountain pipeline and its expansion project from Alberta to the coast — and Shane Gottfriedson wants his bid to emerge as the winner.

Gottfriedson, former Tk’emlups te Secwepemc chief and former B.C. regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations, is now B.C. director of Project Reconciliation, which hopes to lead the effort to acquire a majority stake in Trans Mountain.

The oil and fuel pipeline that has run through his territory since 1954 is a step towards financial self-sufficiency for up to 300 Indigenous groups in Western Canada, Gottfriedson said during a visit to the B.C. legislature last week.

The federal cabinet is expected to announce approval of the project on June 18, after a court-ordered review of Indigenous consultation and the impact of expanded crude oil shipping on marine life.

“We’ve had some preliminary discussions with the federal government,” Gottfriedson said. “We’re anxiously waiting for the June 18 decision to come down so we can continue to move forward. Project Reconciliation is preparing to announce a financial partner in the venture in the coming weeks.

“We are offering all Indigenous groups in Western Canada — more than 300 in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan — to sign up as majority shareholders for a 51 per cent stake in the Trans Mountain pipeline. As a former chief, I am here to tell you, it is high time we shifted our focus from managing historic poverty to managing future prosperity.”

Project Reconciliation aims to put 80 per cent of its pipeline profits into what is calls a sovereign wealth fund to develop infrastructure and businesses in Indigenous communities.

In August 2018, the federal government purchased the pipeline from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion.

Last Friday, Gottfriedson spoke at an Indigenous Opportunities conference in Vancouver, where he argued First Nations communities should “have a seat at the table” in the project’s management, both to earn benefits from a project that appears inevitable and to protect Aboriginal cultural values in the land.

Some 250 First Nations community leaders and industry executives attended Friday morning’s conference at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel, which addressed the business end of First Nations involvement in resource projects.

The event occurred almost a week after First Nations were front and centre at a protest in Vancouver against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

Gottfriedson said the Project Reconciliation efforts will remain respectful of those communities that oppose Trans Mountain’s expansion.

“Who am I to tell anybody that Project Reconciliation is good for you, sign up?” Gottfriedson said. “Our approach is to work with First Nations who want to work with us, on their terms and their land, and build a pipeline.”

The band Gottfriedson led as chief, Tk’emlups, has a $3-million community benefits agreement in place if the pipeline expansion proceeds. A neigbouring band, the Neskonlith in the Chase area, is opposed to the project crossing its territory.

Supporters and opponents of the pipeline expansion project can be found in First Nations communities across the length of the route.

One part of reconciliation with First Nations involves protecting the environment and communities’ way of life, Gottfriedson said.

“{But] if people say no, they don’t want it, then the answer is no,” he said. “We find a way to work around it.”

Following the session, however, Gottfriedson said that personally, he is confident in pipeline safety, from regulations to the technology used in monitoring, and sees his job as getting accurate information in front of communities “to make informed decisions.”

Expansion of the 1,100-kilometre pipeline would involve twinning the existing line, with new routes for a second line in much of the Lower Mainland, which would nearly triple its capacity to 890,000 barrels of oil per day. The expansion would include 29 kilometres through Kamloops.

Project opponents decry the expansion of bitumen production from Alberta’s oilsands that the pipeline would support.

Gottfriedson, however, said “we’d be foolish to say we’re not energy-dependant” and argued the project “is an opportunity to build economic reconciliation.

“As First Nations, we’ve got a long, rich history of managing poverty,” Gottfriedson said. “Now it’s time that we start getting into wealth creation and taking advantage of opportunities.”

Since his days Tk’emlups and B.C. regional chief, Gottfriedson has gone into business. He owns the Tim Hortons restaurant on the Tk’emlups reserve and is developing some property he owns.

However, Friday’s forum couched the discussion in terms of finding consensus within communities about how to balance benefits with priorities to protect the land, which is central to First Nations culture.

Haisla First Nation Chief Councillor Crystal Smith talked about earning “a stake and a say” for her community through a benefits agreement with the $40-billion LNG Canada liquefied natural gas and pipeline project.

While the benefits haven’t eliminated all the Haisla’s problems, Smith said as a community leader, she has gone from managing poverty with few government resources to work with to being able to hold out opportunities for meaningful careers.

And not just for the Haisla. Smith said the opportunities from LNG Canada are large enough to be shared, much like First Nations used to do along traditional trade routes such as the coast’s historic oolichan grease trails.

Niilo Edwards, executive director of the First Nations Major Project Coalition, said legislative changes around accommodating Aboriginal interests in land management “creates a window where Indigenous involvement can be at the forefront” of environmental assessment for projects.

“The era of governments and industry being able to control the show on projects is coming to a close,” Edwards said. “We’re entering a new era where First Nations will be paramount, the decisions made by communities will be paramount.”

Communities will continue to have differing opinions, but Edwards said they will be able to “force other people to deal with you on your terms.”

— with files from the Vancouver Sun