Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

"Small band has big bite"

Small band has big bite
Slave River Journal, June 11/2008

A small First Nation group in the southern part of the Municipality of Wood Buffalo is suing the Alberta provincial government for failing to ensure its treaty rights. Industrial encroachment near the Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation is destroying their way of life, according to Chief Vern Janvier.
“Today we’re at the point where we see no future where we are,” Janvier told reporters in a press conference Wednesday, June 4.
The First Nation wants a judicial review to delay the expansion of MEG Energy’s Christina Lake oilsands project near its land until the band has been adequately consulted.
“The system’s absolutely broken right now,” said the band’s lawyer Robert Freedman.
Janvier argued the industrial expansion was depleting wildlife nearby, including land guaranteed by the federal government for the Chipewyan Prairie Dene’s traditional use under Treaty 8.
“The primary concern is to keep our way of life alive,” said Janvier. He explained half of his band are uneducated and not interested in becoming engineers, so had no stake in expanding oilsands developments.
Out of the four lakes in the area, only one, Lake Winifred, still has fish large enough to catch and eat, said Janvier.
Janvier said the legal action was not about money. On the contrary, the band risked its income from contracts with industry. “We took a big risk doing this, losing all our revenues from those companies,” he said.
Janvier compared the situation in the region to that of Fort Chipewyan in the north of the RMWB, where concerns of water quality coming downstream from industry have led to fears of widespread cancers among the community.
“We aren’t the normal modern-day society,” he said. Janvier explained there had been only five non-aboriginals in the area when he was a child. “Now there’s 2500.”
The Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation comprises 690 members, 400 of whom live on-reservation near Chard in the south of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. Their region is rich in oilsands, making it attractive to industry.
If the band’s legal challenge is successful, it could affect how industry consults with First Nations as other, similar lawsuits could emerge to delay projects, according to Freedman.


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