From Haida Gwaii to Fort Nelson, representatives from 30 nations met in Prince Rupert last week to participate in the First Nations Major Projects Coalition.
The coalition group aims to buy a stake in a major project but it’s also about helping First Nations develop the capacity to deal with the situation should that project end up on their territory.
Chief Councillor Joe Bevan, from Kitselas First Nation, is on the steering committee and was a part of the June 29-30 meetings. “In a nutshell, we are interested in purchasing or buying equity into any major project that may come along. We’re getting all the tools in place to prepare the group for potential purchase,” Bevan said.
Whether that major project is a liquefied natural gas terminal, a pipeline or a foresting operation the coalition has developed a toolbox for other interested groups to use, such as a memorandum of understanding, a way of financing and environmental standards that can be used as a template or guideline.
“If you have your own, by all means use your own. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re a small nation with 100 people and you don’t have the capacity,” Bevan said.
The coalition began in 2014, after a failed attempt to raise enough capital between 16 First Nations to buy equity into the Pacific Trails Pipeline. The First Nations Financial Management Board, a federally legislated organization, supported the coalition to get it moving and to become a financially stable organization.
The goal, Bevan said, is to eventually help with financial independence. “Our people have a lot of needs but they aren’t being met by government so we thought this is one way of doing it. We identified the gaps in our nation (Kitselas) and we said this is how we’re going to fill it. Cultural, language, programs and services, infrastructure needs and then finally investment.”
If and when a major project does come along, the coalition will look at how many First Nations are impacted and facilitate a discussion with those communities and the proponent to see whether they’d be interested in seeing an investment from a First Nations group.
“We have to get ourselves involved in the Canadian economy to some degree,” Bevan said.
While not all First Nations communities support industrial development, the coalition respects their views but it is available for those who want to invest in potential opportunities.
To raise enough capital for investment the coalition is looking to acquire a federal loan guarantee to back them up.
The fine details of investing are still being developed, which is another one of the reasons the group met in Prince Rupert last week. Bevan said they’re still determining the mechanism for how to get returns back to their community members and how they’ll divide up the funds.
“I don’t think we’ve had these opportunities in front of us before. Right now we’re talking about a government in B.C. that wants to reconcile with First Nations and wants them to get involved and some of us want to get involved. Not everyone, but some, and those who are here are interested,” he said.