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Native Sun News: First Nation fights tar sands mine expansion

Filed Under: Canada | Environment
More on: alberta, energy, native sun news

About 50 people rallied in support of Athabasca Chipewyan demand for review of Shell’s tar-sands mining constitutionality in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, on Oct. 23. COURTESY/ACFN OFFICIAL BLOG

First Nation’s challenge over tar-sands threat could curb mine expansion
Canadian tribe rallies against Big Oil
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor

FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta — The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) vowed to pursue arguments against Shell Canada’s proposed expansion of the Jackpine tar sands mine after a regulatory panel turned down the indigenous communities’ treaty-based demands on Oct. 26.

The communities filed a constitutional challenge Oct. 1, asking administrative authorities to decide if the governments of Alberta and of Canada had met their duties to consult with the constituents about the project. The challenge outlined governmental failures to uphold Treaty 8 and to force better protection of the resources needed to sustain rights protected under it.

The official Joint Review Panel ruled that it does not have the jurisdiction to consider the constitutional questions raised by the Athabasca Chipewyan and Métis Nation of Alberta Region 1.

“The panel’s decision-making authority is limited to making a determination as to whether the project is in the public interest,” concluded its ruling, based on an Oct. 23 constitutionality hearing. It set further hearings on that expansion issue to begin Oct. 29.

The Joint Review Panel was mandated by the Canadian Minister of the Environment and the Chairman of the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board, which regulates the development of Alberta’s energy resources, including oil, natural gas, oil sands, coal and pipelines.

About 50 supporters of the indigenous arguments rallied with posters and slogans outside the panel hearing. Among attending supporters of AFCN Chief Allan Adam were Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians, Grand Chief Bill Erasmus of Dene Nation, Clayton Thomas-Muller and Heather Milton Lightening of the Indigenous Environmental Network, Crystal Lameman of Beaver Lake Cree Nation and a bus of supporter from Sierra Club Prairie and Edmonton area. A similar rally took place in British Colombia.

Following the review panel decision, the Athabasca Chipewyan communities’ official blog announced, “ACFN is not about to stand down and we are gearing up for the long haul and hope that the support that has come in will continue.”

Shell Canada intends to add mining and processing facilities about 35 miles north of Fort McMurray on the east side of the Athabasca River adjacent to the existing Jackpine Mine, which it operates on behalf of the Athabasca Oil Sands Project owners: Shell Canada Energy (60 percent), Chevron (20 percent) and Marathon Oil Canada (20 percent). The expansion would increase bitumen production by 100,000 barrels per day to a total 300,000.

“It is important to work through the regulatory process on future growth options to provide the most operational flexibility,” Shell said in a written statement. “Regulatory approval for the Jackpine Mine Expansion will permit access to leases 88 and 89, adjacent to our current Muskeg River and Jackpine mining operations, and allow for the most robust long term planning from both an environmental and economic standpoint.”

The proposal would require the disturbance of nearly 30,000 acres of land and destroy 13 miles of the culturally significant river, according to plaintiffs. Greenhouse gas emissions from the Jackpine expansion would total 2.36 Mt CO2e/year, representing an increase of 5.2 percent in oil sands emissions (based on 2009) or approximately 281,000 cars on the road, they add.

Shell notes that tar sands “have a potentially significant role to play in the energy mix in a world where in the first half of this century, global energy demand could double — driven largely by the world’s emerging economies as a result of population growth and improved standards of living.”

However, the Athabasca communities, constituted of 879 registered members and headquartered in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, have had Shell in court since September 2011 for its alleged failure to meet tar-sands crude-oil extraction agreements with ACFN. The First Nation is governed by a chief, four councilors and a group of elders, under Canada’s Indian Act electoral system.

The case against Shell claims to arise from Shell’s 2003 and 2006 broken promises regarding two open-pit tar-sands mining projects, in which the company did not provide adequate resources for community participation in mitigation discussion, in mapping out traditional areas and studying potential impacts of Shell projects on sacred sites, and in implementing a community monitoring program.

“We have repeatedly tried to engage with both the government and Shell to find a better way to address our rights,” Adam stated when they filed the Joint Review Panel challenge. “However, the government has not listened to us or made meaningful attempts to accommodate the ACFN in relation to the impacts of this and other tar sands projects. They have failed to accurately inform themselves of what our people truly require in order to protect our lands and rights.”

The ACFN is trying to demonstrate the severe adverse impacts of tar-sands crude-oil extraction are undermining its ability to meaningfully exercise Treaty 8 rights within traditional territorial boundaries.

“Our community and our leadership at ACFN are taking the steps to slow down development in Northern Alberta in order to ensure our rights and lands are protected now and into the future,” AFCN communications coordinator Eriel Deranger has observed. “As Denesuline people, it is our responsibility to protect our lands, our rights and all that mother earth provides for our people. We hope people will support us as we put forward ground breaking challenges in Alberta.”

The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation territory spans and includes lands within the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, the Lower Athabasca and North West Saskatchewan planning regions. Members of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation have rights that are protected by Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

According to an ACFN written statement, “Since time immemorial and long before ACFN entered into treaty, Denesuline Peoples of its region lived and continue to live and sustain themselves, their families and their community from Mother Earth and all that she provides.

“Denesuline Peoples had an intricate relationship with Mother Earth and customary practices allowed them to live in harmony with her as she kept their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being in balance. This relationship included customary practices that entailed the care of Mother Earth along with the ability for economic development and survival: the very essence of Denesoline culture and identity.

“Industrialization of ACFN’s traditional territories has led to the cumulative removal of lands, wildlife and fish habitat as well as the destruction of ecological, aesthetic and sensory systems. This will consequently affect treaty promises, cultural and spiritual renewal, procurement of resources, and Denesuline Peoples’ connection with and use of landscape that is integral to traditional use.

“In truth, the current industrialization occurring in Northeastern Alberta is putting ecosystems, the watersheds that sustain them, and the First Nations who depend upon them, at risk for large-scale impacts that will permanently change the biophysical and socio-cultural landscape of the region. This industrialization has thrust the ACFN to the forefront of the tar sands controversy.

“Canada and Alberta’s elected leaders have been promoting tar sands development on ACFN traditional lands at a pace that appears irresponsible and irreparably destructive. Canada has avoided its duty to properly enforce the Fisheries Act, Navigable Waters Protection Act, Species at Risk Act, Constitution Act and Treaty No. 8.

“Alberta is actively changing its laws to pave the way for devastation of ACFN lands and rights. Throughout a vast tract of ACFN’s traditional territory the ecology is being completely destroyed in order to extract bitumen. Alberta has granted Shell Canada the rights to mine out the land to the boundaries of Poplar Point (Reserve 201G), in the heart of the ACFN homelands.”

(Contact Talli Nauman at

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