A new coalition of First Nations is coming together with the goal of building several major infrastructure projects, including a pipeline to transport Alberta hydrogen to tidewater in Churchill, Man.
The leadership of several Treaty 5 nations announced the plan Wednesday in Chemawawin, Man. It calls for the creation of the Wáwátéwák Corridor, a Cree term translated to English as northern lights.
The plan involves the initial creation of a high-voltage direct current (HVDC) electric power transmission line, followed by a fibre-optic network, all-weather road as well as the hydrogen pipeline to Alberta.
“This project has potential to change the present and the future of our nations in a good way, that will provide abundance and prosperity. It’s high time we turn the tide on widespread poverty and create opportunities for our people not just to survive, but to thrive,” said Chemawawin Cree Nation Chief Clarence Easter.
Easter added the projects will all use Indigenous-designed approaches and will be owned and operated by the coalition.
Hydrogen infrastructure remains key focus for Service Alberta: mandate letter
Feds, Alberta government to fund more than $470 million in new blue hydrogen energy complex
He said the infrastructure corridor is planned to run between parallels 57 and 58 with pipeline construction forecast to take between five and six years, “depending on technology, market, demand and the production of hydrogen in Alberta.”
All components of the corridor are forecast to be operational in nine to 10 years.
In a news release, the coalition said it expects the corridor to assist in the “progressive decarbonization and the formation of an important segment of a national power grid.”
Project coalition president Mark Sweeney said the power lines will help diesel-reliant communities in northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan as well as the province of Manitoba as it looks to meet increasing demand for net zero power including from Alberta and the United States.
“As Canadians we will never realize our true potential as a country until we recognize and embrace the contributions of the first peoples of these lands,” he said.
Treaty 5 includes 37 First Nations spread across northern and central Manitoba as well as small parts of Ontario and Saskatchewan. Easter stated the coalition will “in the future welcome inclusion” of First Nations in Treaties 6 and 10 in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and Treaty 8 in northern Alberta, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia.
Among all provinces, Alberta is Canada’s largest producer of hydrogen, manufacturing approximately 2.5 million tonnes per year.
The provincial government released its hydrogen roadmap in 2021 that aims to see hydrogen integrated into the province’s energy system for transportation, heat, power generation and renewable energy storage as well as industrial use, with exports occurring by 2030.
Nearly a half-billion dollars in joint government funding for a new net-zero hydrogen complex in Alberta was announced late last year.
Hydrogen can be produced in several ways and is often characterized as a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels, though some environmental groups warn the production process emits toxic gases and creates a need for storage.
A spokesperson for Alberta Indigenous Relations issued a statement citing the government’s support for Indigenous economic growth and the importance of respecting the traditional rights and territories of First Nations.
The office of Transportation and Economic Corridors Minister Devin Dreeshen also issued a statement stating the corridor project is one of many showing promise and that the government is supportive of getting Alberta products to market via Hudson’s Bay.