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.

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