After sealing what was touted as the largest business investment by First Nations in Canada, an Alberta chief challenged other large corporations to strike similar, lucrative deals with Indigenous communities.
Chief Archie Waquan’s Mikisew Cree First Nation and Fort McKay First Nation invested a combined $500 million to secure a 49-per-cent share of a Suncor oilsands storage terminal north of Fort McMurray.
The deal, which the Indigenous communities have funded with debt, will deliver revenues to each First Nation for 25 years, helping them make critical improvements to water and sewer lines, housing and roads.
“I’d like to send a
message to other multinational corporations,” Waquan said in an interview. “Give the people that you directly affect, give them a chance to be a part of what you’re doing. Be a partner.”
Suncor and First Nations officials called the deal historic, given its massive size.
Inuvik-based Aboriginal Pipeline Group owns a one-third stake in the proposed multibillion-dollar Mackenzie Gas pipeline that would ship natural gas from the Northwest Territories to northern Alberta, but the project is on hold due to low commodity prices.
Suncor and Fort McKay announced their partnership more than a year ago, but final approval was conditional on the Indigenous communities securing funding. They signed the deal in a packed downtown boardroom Wednesday afternoon.
Suncor’s East Tank Farm project will store, cool and blend bitumen from the Fort Hills mine north of Fort McMurray before transporting it in pipelines. Fort McKay now owns a 34 per cent take in the storage terminal, with Mikisew Cree owning nearly 15 per cent.
“It’s the beginning of a whole new conversation, I think, between the industry and our country and our First Nations, about how we move forward and create economic reconciliation,” said Mark Little, Suncor’s president of upstream operations.
The deal comes at a time that Alberta’s oilsands faces intense opposition from environmental groups and other First Nations, which have waged large campaigns against pipeline projects, with some success.
While Fort McKay and Mikisew Cree were raising money for their oilsands investment, Indigenous groups opposed to new pipelines were calling on banks and other lenders to pull their investments from companies behind these projects.
Fort McKay’s Chief Jim Boucher said the campaign had little effect on his group’s fundraising efforts, because the banks offered twice as much cash as they were looking for.
“We have a different view of the oilsands industry than other people who are not close to our neighbourhood,” said Boucher, whose community collected roughly $500 million in annual revenues from oil and gas before the deal.
“A lot of people are making judgment calls in regards to what they see and hear from environmental groups, which is really contrary to what we believe and what we see in our region.”