ROSEDALE, B.C. — The federal government must offer more than Kinder Morgan did and tread carefully with First Nations when building the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, says an Indigenous committee monitoring the project.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met Tuesday with the Indigenous Advisory and Monitoring Committee in Rosedale, B.C., where he linked Indigenous reconciliation and the expansion project.
"I don't take your presence here, any one of you, as direct and immediate support for this project,'' he said in his opening remarks. "But I do take, and I think I'm right to take, your presence here as support for the idea of reconciliation that we need to work together on.''
The purpose of the committee is to make sure the project is done right, minimizing concerns and maximizing benefits, Trudeau said.
Chief Ernie Crey of the Cheam First Nation said the private meeting allowed committee members to raise some serious issues with the prime minister.
"It was a long dialogue. The prime minister listened very carefully and also engaged in a dialogue with all the committee members,'' said Crey, a spokesman for the group.
More from HuffPost Canada:
The federal government is spending $4.5 billion to buy the pipeline from Kinder Morgan to ensure the expansion goes ahead. The $7.4-billion project between Edmonton and Metro Vancouver has faced vocal and legal opposition from several B.C. First Nations, environmental groups and the cities of Vancouver and Burnaby.
The committee released a statement following the meeting saying the purchase will have "huge impacts'' on Indigenous communities and it called on Ottawa to allow the group to be co-manager of the project instead of an adviser.
"If the government is going to build the (pipeline), then it must build it better than Kinder Morgan would have — safer, more respectful of Indigenous rights and title and treaty rights, and fairer in its distribution of economic benefits to affected Indigenous nations,'' the statement said.
The committee is made up of people with varying levels of support for the project, but what brings them together is a desire to protect Indigenous land and interests, Crey said.
"There are people on the committee who come from communities that do not want to see the pipeline built. Also, there are other people on the committee who want to see the pipeline constructed,'' he said.
"We want to be inside the fence, working with the regulators to make sure they work with us to protect our values and interests in the land as this project moves forward.''
Kinder Morgan declined comment on the meeting, saying they would leave it to Trudeau's office and the committee to make remarks.
We want to be inside the fence, working with the regulators to make sure they work with us to protect our values and interests in the land as this project moves forward.Cheam Chief Ernie Crey
Crey said his own community, located about 120 kilometres east of Vancouver, is "looking at'' buying a stake in the pipeline.
"It's very early in the process,'' he said. "It's an issue that we would like to explore with the government of Canada.''
Trudeau's visit to western Canada on Tuesday was focused on the Trans Mountain pipeline as he later toured the Kinder Morgan terminal just outside Edmonton, where it starts.
He said the decision to buy the pipeline from Kinder Morgan is "an investment in jobs here in Alberta but also jobs right across the country, in construction in B.C.''
"We know that there are thousands upon thousands of people who come from across the country to make their livings and raise their families by working hard in the oilpatch and this is an important thing to support for the national interest.''
Trudeau challenged those who oppose the pipeline, saying the project can be built to promote the country's economic interests and protect the environment at the same time.
"There's still folks out here who think there's a choice to be made between protecting the environment and growing the economy. We know that a responsible government needs to do both of those together and that's exactly what we're doing here.''
Outside the meeting in Rosedale, about three dozen people protested the expansion of the pipeline, including members of Crey's community.
"Informed consent. We have not been informed properly and we have not given consent,'' said Denise Douglas of the Cheam First Nation.
Eddie Gardner with the Wild Salmon Defenders Alliance said Trudeau is "deluded'' if he thinks the project is compatible with the environment.
"He did not have a political mandate to buy a pipeline at this huge price in terms of taxpayers dollars but also in terms of the destruction of what sustains us,'' he said.
With files from Dean Bennett in Edmonton
Explore our database tracking Indigenous consultation for the project: