Photo: Marie-France Coallier The Duty
Cole Gladue, a member of the Beaver Lake cree Nation
The Beaver Lake cree Nation, in Alberta, tent for more than 10 years of recognition by the courts of the negative impacts of industrial development on its territory, and in particular those of the oil sands. It is estimated today that the unsuccessful attempts of the governments of Canada and Alberta to stop the court proceedings have exhausted its financial resources.
The small community, located in the north-east of Edmonton, has done little about it since it was filed in 2008 lawsuit against the Alberta government and the federal government. Its cause could, however, create a precedent in the country, in a context where many First nations are opposed to projects of oil and gas development on their territory.
It must be said that for the Beaver Lake cree Nation, are the “cumulative impacts” attributable in particular to the development of the oil exploitation which motivated the action. According to Cole Gladue, a member of this community and involved in the record, several thousands of development permits have been granted over the years on the territory of 38 000 km2 of the community. It is basically permissions for projects in oil, gas, mining and forestry.
Under a treaty signed with the federal authorities in 1876, the community accepts to share his land for some uses, such as logging and mining, but in exchange of respect of their traditional activities, including hunting, fishing, and trapage.
Gold, lamented the fact that Mr. Gladue, the development has become so intensive that it ” destroyed the habitat of animal and plant species, in addition to disrupting the cycles of migration of the caribou, moose, etc, And even when there is restoration by the result, the medium does not return to its original state “.
Concretely, the cree community considers therefore that there is a violation of the clauses of the treaty, but also that aboriginal people have not been adequately consulted and compensated for the impacts of industrial development on their territory. “For us, this is not a question of money,” insists the head of the community of 1200 people, Germaine Anderson.
“We want to uphold our right to a way of life that is constantly under pressure due to the development on our territory. It is not a matter of just saying no, but it’s about having our say, in order to maintain our way of life in a sustainable way “, she adds.
“This is a case that looks at the cumulative impacts, which is unique in Canada,” says for its part, Ana Simeon, director of fund-raising campaigns for the organization, Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs (RAVEN). “In case of victory, governments will need to further analyse the cumulative impacts of projects that they authorize,” which would include the expansion projects of the oil-sands sector.
However, it is not assumed that the Beaver Lake cree Nation to continue its legal action. Over the years, the governments of Canada and Alberta have tried to stop the proceedings, claiming in particular that it was an ” abuse of procedures “. In 2012, however, the Court of queen’s bench of Alberta (the equivalent of the superior Court in Quebec) concluded that the case could proceed. A decision confirmed in 2013 by the court of appeal of Alberta.
A little over five years later, no date has yet been fixed for the holding of a trial, and the community lacks the funds to prepare. She will be back in court on Tuesday to claim an advance of funds on the part of the governments of Canada and Alberta, in order to be able to pursue legal action.
Ms. Simeon is estimated that these initiatives have already cost more than $ 2.9 million, of which 1.5 million have been financed out of the funds of the community, the rest having been raised by RAVEN. “We have seen that tactics of the government of Canada and Alberta to slow down the procedures, the more they can, so we have a record that drags out for several years. And we can’t fund this case forever, so it seems that governments are trying to wear us down financially in order to succeed, ” says Cole Gladue.
The Duty asked for an official reaction on the part of the federal government. “The government of Canada is committed to working fully in partnership with the indigenous peoples, in the spirit of true reconciliation. We respect the right of indigenous communities to have recourse to the courts to important questions. Given that this case was submitted to the Court, we cannot comment further, ” replied Relations Crown-Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Canada.