Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Grassroots Dene people defending the land in northern Saskatchewan

Grassroots Dene people defending the land in northern Saskatchewan
By Scott Neigh
| March 25, 2015

On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Don Montgrand and Candyce Paul. They are grassroots Dene people living in northern Saskatchewan, and they talk with me about the Northern Dene Trappers Alliance and its efforts to defend the land and to defend the Dene people in the face of companies and governments pushing predatory resource extraction.

It would be hard to find something more fundamental to Canada as a historical project or to social struggles in our current moment than conflict between, on the one side, colonial capitalist resource extraction driven by companies and by the Canadian state, and on the other side Indigenous nations and their allies resisting, asserting sovereignty, and defending the land. Montgrand, who is 59, recalls a time before development began to have a major impact on the land in northern Saskatchewan. But then roads were built, a uranium mine opened with a promise of prosperity that never arrived and with major health impacts on the locals who got jobs there. And in more recent years, there are dozens of companies exploring and doing preliminary work on various resource extraction projects in the area, most related to uranium or to tar sands. The impact on the land, the animals, the food supply, and the people has already, compared to Montgrand's youth, been extensive, and it will only intensify if projects are allowed to go ahead. Yet with elected leadership that they say is not responsive to the concerns of the people, and with purely token consultation from governments, it is only grassroots action that has a chance of stopping the devastation.

The Northern Dene Trappers Alliance is a grassroots group that originally came together about 15 years ago and mounted a highway blockade at that time in an effort to defend land use. As harm to land and people has mounted, and efforts to register objections to extraction projects have been ignored, they decided they needed to act again, and blockaded commercial traffic on a major highway in late November of last year. In early December, the RCMP intervened and dismantled the blockade, but the Alliance has maintained a camp at the site through the winter. In January at the camp, they held a major 3-day meeting of grassroots Dene people, where a strong consensus emerged to pursue a range of projects related to defending the land and to revitalizing language and culture. Montgrand and Paul talk with me about the territory, the blockade, and the powerful groundwork they are laying for a clean land and a strong people.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit its website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Sudbury, Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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