Response to Supreme Court of Canada’s rejection of appeal of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation

Response to Supreme Court of Canada’s rejection of appeal of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation

February 23, 2012 Fort McMurray – Members of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) are disappointed with yesterday’s response from the Supreme Court of Canada announcing that it would not hear their appeal.  In January of 2011, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation presented a case against arguing that tar sands leases granted to Shell in the Poplar Point area along the Athabasca River were made without proper consultation.  The Alberta courts summarily dismissed the case prompting leadership to take an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

ACFN asserts their treaty rights were violated by the provincial government through current policies of granting of tar sands leases and in particular to leases granted to Shell Canada Ltd. The leases in question are in an area of important cultural value allowing the continued hunting, fishing and gathering practices of the community.  ACFN are signatories to Treaty 8, a constitutionally protected agreement, which asserts the right to hunt, fish and trap on their traditional lands.  The federal government has a duty to consult with First Nations regarding any development on their lands before breaking ground.

The current Alberta Energy Ministry’s policy is to consult with aboriginal groups when development has the potential to adversely affect traditional uses and their constitutionally protected rights to hunt, trap, and fish. The provincial government stands by their stance that is does not consult with First Nation at the preliminary lease-granting stage because there are many steps to go before tar sands development actually occurs. Currently, the government’s policy is to simply post lease sales online and not consult directly with First Nations.

“I’d say the province isn’t doing a good job,” Bankes said when an Alberta court quashed the First Nation’s initial appeal last year.

“Particularly when it comes to granting oilsands rights, because they basically say, ‘We can fulfil our duty simply by posting stuff on our website.’ I don’t think that’s real consultation.”

ACFN is disappointed the Supreme court of Canada does not deem this issue of national interest and they stand by their stance that Alberta tenure system needs to be reviewed and amended to include the constitutionally protected rights of First Nations at the early stages of granting leases.

In recent months, tar sands development has come under fire across the globe; in the US there is growing opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, which is proposed to carry Alberta’s tar sands to the gulf of Mexico through the agricultural heartland of the US; the EU cannot agree on a decision on whether to classify tar sands oil as a high carbon fuel; and here in our own country growing opposition in British Columbia to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, which proposes to carry tar sands oil to the coast of Kitimat to be shipped as far away as China.

Tar sands have clearly become a national issue garnering attention across the globe and yet Canada’s supreme court does not support the idea of scrutinizing the current structure of provincial First Nation consultation and how they grant leases in the province.


From Pipelines to Tar Sands Expansion ACTION ALERT!

ACTION ALERT: Submit written comments on Shell’s revised Jackpine and Pierre River mine agreements

Yesterday the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency released notice of Public Consultation on Revised Joint Review Panel Agreements. The proposed revisions being put forward by CEAA are to allow the Jackpine Mine Review Panel to also review the Pierre River Mine project together.  The possibility of appointing the same panel to review the two projects was already under consideration and a single, integrated Environmental Impact Statement has been prepared by Shell Oil (the proponent) for the two projects.

ACFN is concerned about the proposed Shell Projects impacts on ACFN’s ability to exercise treaty rights in a meaningful way into the future.  The regulatory process DOES NOT meet ACFN’s need in terms of a proper assessment of impacts to rights. ACFN has no assurance that the environment and treaty rights can be protected because Alberta has done a poor job of enforcing environmental protection with the companies and  Shell has not met past commitments to ACFN. In September of 2011, ACFN  filed suit suing Shell Canada for these unmet agreement (Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation serves Shell Canada with intent to Sue over tar sands projects).

Chief Adam of ACFN stated, “We’re drawing the line, and taking a strong stand against Shell. ACFN wants no further developments until Shell is brought to justice and our broader concerns about the cumulative impacts in the region are addressed, our treaty rights respected and our rights are fully recognized within the approval process once and for all.”



For more information on how to submit comments and register by  February 24, 2012 please visit the CEAA site here or contact:

Kurt Saunders, Associate Director
Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency
160 Elgin Street, 22nd floor, Ottawa ON K1A 0H3
Tel.: 613- 948-1351 or 1-866-582-1884
Fax: 613-957-0941


1. Jackpine Mine Expansion:

Shell Canada is proposing to expand the Jackpine Mine (Jackpine Mine Expansion, JPME). The expansion would include additional mining areas and associated processing facilities, utilities and infrastructure. The project would be located about 70 kilometres north of Fort McMurray on the east side of the Athabasca River. The expansion project would increase tar sands production by 100,000 barrels per day (to a total of 300,000 bbl/day). Proposed water usage includes an 18,000,000 m3/yr diversion from the Athabasca River. The proposed expansion includes plans to mine out a portion of the Muskeg River, which is culturally important to ACFN. Based on recent calculations, the total footprint proposed for the development is 20,801.6 hectares.

ACFN submitted a joint submission to Joint Review Panel outlining the concerns of the JPME project application just last month.  The joint submission asserts rights protected by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, including rights pursuant to Treaty 8, to hunt, fish, and trap, which guarantees First Nations have a meaningful livelihood now and for the future. ACFN’s joint submission identified the following overarching flaws in the application:

1. Shell has not provided sufficient information with respect to the Project’s impacts and infringements of our section 35 rights for the JRP to comply with the Terms of Reference.

2. Shell has not provided sufficient information for the JRP to be able to conduct an assessment of the cumulative effects of the Project, either on environmental components or on our section 35 rights and traditional uses.

3. Shell has not provided sufficient information for the JRP to assess water quantity issues, including the degree to which the Project could diminish water levels below the threshold level where we can still exercise our section 35 rights and fully access our traditional lands.

More information available here in past post: Shell’s Environmental Impact Assessment Fails to Protect the Environment and First Nation Rights

2.  Pierre River Mine:

Shell Canada is also proposing the Pierre River Mine Project (PRM), which includes the construction, operation, and reclamation of an tar sands surface mine and bitumen extraction facilities. The proposed mining project would be located approximately 90 kilometres north of Fort McMurray on the west side of the Athabasca River. It is about 27 kilometres to the south and west of ACFN’s Poplar Point Reserve. The proposed development includes an open-pit mine, ore handling facility, bitumen extraction facilities, tailings processing facilities, support infrastructure, water and tailings management plans, as well as the construction of a bridge across the Athabasca River. The project is designed to produce a total of 200,000 barrels of tar sands per day. Water usage includes a 55,100,000 m3/year diversion from the Athabasca River. Based on recent calculations, the total proposed footprint is 10,402.90.


  • 31,205.5 HECTARES OF LAND

Enbridge Pipeline Hearings and ACFN takes a stand

Over the past week here in Edmonton we have seen a flurry of First Nation representatives, government representatives and corporate representative filing in and out of the Northern Gateway pipeline hearings on the west side of Edmonton.  Yesterday marked the last day of the hearings here and it ended with a powerful presentation from the Driftpile First Nation.

Over the course of the past week the Joint Review Panel heard oral testimony from various First Nation communities with intervenor status.  The testimony heard from First Nation communities along the pipeline cooridor and downstream of the corridorover outlined the serious concerns regarding the impacts of the pipeline to wildlife, eco-systems and traditional lives of the communities. Chief Laboucan from Driftpile wrapped up the hearings yesterday with eloquent and compelling testimony about impacts of industrial development on the lives and livelihoods of the people dependent on the land.  She spoke of the impacts of colonization and the need and process of decolonization bringing industrial development and the whole picture into focus. Her words silenced the room and reminded me of what is needed after a week of long and often hard to hear testimony that I felt was being left on deaf ears.

Last Friday, Dene Nation, a registered intervenor, presented to the panel outlining concerns of the pipeline and the implications it would have on communities downstream.  Representatives from Dene Nation included Chiefs from Alberta and NWT many of them bringing forward concerns about massive industrial development already felt in their communities. Many of the Chiefs tied the pipeline directly to massive tar sands expansion in Alberta voicing concern over the impacts already felt from an industry that has pushed them to the waysides.  What came next was appalling, the Dene leaders were repeatedly asked to refrain from testifying about cumulative environmental effects from area industrialization. The panel said their mandate does not include hearing cumulative effects testimony, and any such information would not be taken into account when deciding the line’s fate.

“Why is cancer so high? Why are our people dying of cancer?” said Francois Paulette, a Dene Elder. “You mentioned that you (panel) want to listen to traditional knowledge (but) traditional knowledge is just one aspect of a bigger picture.”

Following the presentation to panel Dene leaders along with Swan River First Nation, Beaver Lake First Nation, Dene Tha’ First Nation and Keepers of the Athabasca met with members of the Yinka Dene Alliance.  The Yinka Dene Alliance is made up of 6 Nations (Nadleh Whut’en, Saik’uz, Takla Lake, Nak’azdli, Wet’suwet’en and Tlazt’en Nations) in northern British Columbia who are responsible for the creation of the Save the Fraser Declaration in 2010, a formal declaration opposing the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline and supertankers project. The Yinka Dene Alliance member and Chief of the Saik’uz First Nation, Jackie Thomas and Geraldine Thomas welcomed the signatures of 10 Chiefs and the Keepers of the Athabasca at a signing ceremony in a neighboring hotel.

The Save the Fraser Declaration recognizes the connection to tar sands expansion projects and criticizes the federal process to approve the pipeline. The Declaration states, “This project would link the Tar Sands to Asia through our territories and the headwaters of this great river, and the federal process to approve it, violate our laws, traditions, values and our inherent rights as Indigenous Peoples under international law…”

Edmonton Journal Video of Signing Ceremony

Since the creation of this Declaration in 2012 over 100 First Nations in BC, Alberta and the NWT have signed on supporting opposition of the proposed Enbridge pipeline and tankers.

Chief Adam voices his voice of support in this news clip and article from CTV news Edmonton here.

“As a community being impacted by rapid tar sands development in the Alberta we support the Yinka Dene Alliance and understand the importance of protecting sacred waterways from the dangers of this pipeline,” stated Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. “Our community has seen the devastating impacts of tar sands projects and we truly hope that our brothers and sisters in the Fraser River do not suffer the same fate.”

“Our downstream communities have already experienced impacts from the ruptured Enbridge Norman Wells pipeline in the NWT, which is still being cleaned,” stated Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus. “A rupture in the Northern Gateway pipeline could also affect us because the water comes north. People in the north get their drinking water directly from the rivers and streams.”

New Signatories to the Declaration include Dene Nation,Keepers of the Athabasca, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Swan River First Nation, Smith’s Landing First Nation, Liidlii Kue First Nation, Deh Gah Got’ie First Nation, Ketlodeeche First Nation, Beaver Lake Cree Nation, Dene Tha’ First Nation and Deh Cho First Nations.