Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Indigenous Environmental Network press release on Obama's visit to Canada

*Ottawa, Canada, February 19, 2009 –* United States President Barack Obama
is meeting today with Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada for his first
foreign visit as a President. The main discussion will center on trade
between the two nations as well as topics of environment, climate and energy
security in North America. Obama's concerns about implementing an agenda for
a clean and green energy economy highlights' Canada's oil sands, a vast
potential oil source that comes at a big cost to the environment and the
human rights of Aboriginal communities. "Obama is building a new energy
economy and importing dirty oil from the Canadian tar sands is not a right
fit", says Clayton Thomas-Muller, Native tar sands campaigner of the
Indigenous Environmental Network from his office in Ottawa. "Canada needs
to stop expansion of this carbon intensive fossil fuel in Alberta that is
destroying the boreal forests, degrading the sacredness of the watershed and
creating environmental health concerns of First Nation communities
surrounding the tar sands development", added Thomas-Muller.

Canada's tar sands consist of huge deposits of heavy crude oil mixed with
sand and clay in the province of Alberta and represent the biggest oil
reserves outside of Saudi Arabia. The ecological footprint of approved
projects in the tar sands and its infamous tailings ponds already represents
an area the size of Vancouver Island. In the years to come it will grow to
an area 90,720 square kilometers in size with 20-30 % being stripped mined
and the other 70-80% being developed by a process called SAG-D which
requires immense amounts of water and energy as well as the building of
thousands of miles of roads and pipelines. The use of water in the process
of extracting the tar sands and upgrading the bitumen for transport is of
particular concern. If the current development continues at the same pace
the tailings ponds will grow to a combined size comparable to Lake Ontario.

The Athabasca Chipweyan First Nation and the Mikisew Cree First Nation are
two of five Aboriginal communities within the Athabasca tar sands
development zone that comprises approximately 60% of the First Nation
population in the region. "Residents of my community have for the past
thirty years recognized the impacts from industrial development on our
lands, water, air, wildlife and most recently the health of our people. The
devastation of our homelands in this short period of time is perplexing to
my people since it is only a fraction of the time that these impacts have
occurred compared to the thousands of years we have inhabited these lands."
says George Poitras, former chief of the Mikisew Cree.

Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipweyan First Nation is also concerned
about President Obama meeting with Harper. Joining forces with environmental
organizations and Mikisew, Chief Adam says, "Obama must ask Canada to clean
up its tar sands and to respect the rights of our aboriginal First Nations.
Both the federal and provincial governments of Canada have failed our
aboriginal community for the sake of money, for the sake of corporate
interests, and for the sake of increasing energy exports to the US. We are
seeing disheartening toxicity levels in our animal life and have now
received confirmation of unacceptable cancer rates."

"There are many political layers surrounding a campaign towards a
bi-national energy and environmental policy between Canada and the US. The
rapid expansion of the tar sands infrastructure results in a road of
destruction directly affecting the rights of First Nations, American Indians
and Alaska Natives on all sides of the political borders," added

The tar sands expansion has an infrastructure with many connecting and
supplying pipelines and associated projects that are needed to transport
fuels for the production of tar sands bitumen and to move crude oil to the
lower 48 of the US for refining. This involves some massive new pipeline
projects to Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Illinois, Wisconsin, Oklahoma,
Louisiana, California, Pennsylvania, Texas and elsewhere including efforts
to send the crude oil to existing refineries in Ontario and Quebec. The
Canadian government is further compounding land and water rights issues with
the approval and construction of expansion projects infringing into
traditional territories in Northern Saskatchewan as well as Alberta. The
projects for the delivering of this crude oil include major pipeline
construction in traditional aboriginal territories in Alberta, Saskatchewan,
Manitoba, British Columbia and US States. The bulk of these projects are
raising questions of adequate consultation with the First Nations and
American Indian communities.

"The Alberta government's approval of the NCC pipeline directly infringes
upon our inherent rights as aboriginal peoples especially since we, the
Lubicon Cree have never ceded our rights to the land," relates Melina
Laboucan-Massimo who is Lubicon Cree. "We already have logging and
conventional oil exploitation taking place on our territory, how much more
can the land or our people take?

Prior agreements between the Bush administration and Harper have been made
to retrofit over forty oil refineries, double some in size and with some
plans to build new refineries in the US to prepare for the export and
processing of Canadian tar sands crude oil. American Indians in the US are
afraid Canadian export of more crude oil will result in an increase of
cancer clusters in the communities that live next to these refineries. "We
have on our reservation, on our Ponca land in north-central Oklahoma, a
ConocoPhillips refinery which has been here for over 50 years," explains
Casey Camp-Hornik, a member of the Ponca Nation who works with the Coyote
Creek Center for Environmental Justice. "This company is active in the oil
sands in Canada and making plans to ship this dirty oil to its refinery next
door to our Ponca territories to be refined. Our people already have cancer,
asthma and other health effects from the petroleum infrastructure in our

An oil refinery is being proposed to be built on the land of the Three
Affiliated Tribes of Fort Berthold in North Dakota. The crude oil that will
feed this refinery is coming from the tar sands in Alberta. Kandi Mosset,
tribal member of the Three Affiliated Tribes says, "Canada will be shipping
its dirty oil to my people. We're not going to get the energy, only the
pollution. Our Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara people are already experiencing
disproportionate environmental fallout from oil development and from the
burning of lignite coal in power plants that surround our lands. Several
community members, including myself, are tired of being sick and are tired
of seeing everyone, even babies, dying from unprecedented rates of cancer.
We are taking a stand and fighting back, not only for our own lives but for
the lives of those who cannot speak for themselves and we will not stop
fighting until we have a reached a true level of environmental and climate
justice in our Indigenous lands. We hope Obama tells Canada to stop shipping
its dirty oil to the US. People have told me the reason that Canada is not
meeting its Kyoto Protocol target commitments to reduce its greenhouse gases
is because of the tars sands. Climate change is affecting my community,
something has to change."

"Our Alaska Native subsistence way of life has been under constant threat by
oil and gas development since the discovery of oil in Prudhoe Bay. REDOIL
has consistently objected to the subsistence rights of our communities being
eroded to satisfy the high fossil fuel consumption needs of the US. We
strongly oppose the proposed Alaska natural gas pipeline that will link the
gas fields of the North Slope to the tar sands development in northern
Alberta. We should have a Canadian-US energy policy that does not put
Native communities in peril," says Faith Gemmill, Executive Director of
Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL) based in
Fairbanks, Alaska.

Dene, Cree and Métis communities of Canada and other Native communities
being affected by the tar sands infrastructure want to look beyond the
dependence on a fossil fuel regime and be visionaries and doers on
supporting the development of clean production and clean renewable energy
within their lands.

The Indigenous Environmental Network working in alliance with the First
Nations and Métis of the community of Fort Chipewyan located downstream of
the tar sands development zone are looking for solutions to provide a
healthy sustaining community for their future generations. "The sustainable
future for First Nations in Alberta and Canada isn't going to be sinking all
our eggs into one of the dirtiest, most energy intensive and destructive
sources of oil on the planet," said Eriel Deranger, Dene campaigner with the
Rainforest Action Network, based in Edmonton. "It's time we focus our
efforts on building a clean sustainable future with our people working in a
safe, green energy economy."


www.obama2canada.org http://www.ienearth.org/cits.html




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