Violations of Rights Creates Risk for Oil Sands Development
Chief Roxanne Marcel of the Mikisew Cree First Nation (MCFN) and Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations (ACFN) met with Alberta Government Ministers today, and told them they need to fix the draft Lower Athabasca Regional Plan.
The Alberta Government has been under criticism over oil sands development in the Lower Athabasca region. Since 2005, both ACFN and MCFN have made numerous submissions on how to improve land use planning where it affects their traditional territory. They have consistently put forward recommendations for policies and protected areas while offering to work with Government to undertake traditional resource use planning that would help set meaningful safeguards and thresholds for ecological disturbance such as for land, air and water - and help ensure Treaty and Aboriginal rights are protected for current and future generations. Unfortunately, the input of the First Nations has been ignored time and time again.
A legal analysis that addresses LARP will be published in June by the Canadian Institute of Resources Law (CIRL) at the University of Calgary. Monique Passelac-Ross, co-author, said "Protection of aboriginal land uses or treaty rights is not included in any of the outcomes, objectives, strategies or management framework of the draft LARP. It reflects almost none of the input provided by the affected First Nations."
"There is no legal impediment to the Government of Alberta to involving First Nations more meaningfully in land use planning," said Bob Freedman, legal counsel to the First Nations. "They just don't seem to be willing to do so."
"LARP is a smoke screen to make it seem like the Alberta government has a plan to protect the region. The reality is that LARP will allow for massive expansion of oil sands development that already violates our rights, and is causing environmental and health problems," said Chief Marcel. "Alberta cannot afford to have this Government push through a land use plan that prioritizes the interests of one industry and essentially ignores the health and sustainability of local ecosystems and cultures."
Even some oil companies recognize the need for the Alberta Government to do to more to uphold and honour its constitutional obligations. Leo Piciacchia, Vice President of Total E&P Canada – a major oil sands firm – said, "Total supports the First Nations' request for more thorough consultation on the draft LARP that considers the rights of the First Nations."
Of particular concern to MCFN and ACFN is the fact that under LARP, the development of key frameworks, like the biodiversity plan and the land disturbance plan, are not required to be developed until 2013, after far more oil sands and other development is approved. As Chief Marcel noted, "This is putting the cart before the horse and it is clear that Alberta is planning for a huge increase in oil sands development without taking our constitutional rights into consideration."
Violating First Nation rights can open oil sands development to litigation risk, corporate reputation risk, market risk and other investor risks. "We have come to say enough is enough," Chief Adam said. "We have constitutionally protected rights under Treaty 8. If the Alberta government doesn't do what is needed to protect our land, air and water and our rights, then we will oppose further industrial development in the region, and oppose the draft LARP using every legal avenue available to us."
Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam 780-713-1220
Mikisew Cree First Nation Chief Roxanne Marcel 780-881-7099
Canadian Institute of Resource Law Monique Passelac-Ross 403-220-3973
Legal Counsel to ACFN and MCFN Bob Freedman 250-818-3719