July 9, 2013 Fort McMurray, AB— Quick on the heels of oil washing up on the shores of Ft. Chipewyan and a 100 km long slick along the Athabasca River, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) is disappointed by the recent decision by the Joint Review Panel (JRP) to recommend Shell’s Jackpine mine expansion project go forward, despite a Panel acknowledging, for the first time, the significant adverse impacts tar sands have on Aboriginal rights and cultures.
“We see from this approval that the JRP has prioritized oil industry profits before the health and well being of our community and the environment. It’s truly appalling. First Nation and environmental rights shouldn’t take a back seat as the destruction of our homelands continues,” comments Eriel Deranger Communication Coordinator for the ACFN.
The report from the JRP admitted within its approval that “the Project, in combination with past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future projects, would likely result in significant adverse cumulative effects on wetlands; old-growth forests; traditional plant potential areas; wetland-reliant species at risk and migratory birds; old- growth forest-reliant species at risk and migratory birds; caribou; biodiversity; and Aboriginal TLU, rights, and culture.” Furthermore it acknowledged that “some types of habitat cannot be reclaimed, the landscape will be significantly altered, and some species loss may be irreversible” but still approved the project with non-binding conditions.
The ACFN put forward extensive resources in both their research and participation in the JRP to assert their position that the project violated their constitutional rights, threatened the health of their community and would destroy 21 kms of the Muskeg River, which is a culturally significant waterway for their traditional practices. Although the ACFN provided significant evidence of the adverse impacts the Panel chose not to require conditions in its approval that would adequately protect ACFN’s rights and culture.
In addition, despite past failings by government regulators, the Panel continues to lean on Provincial and Federal regulators to oversea permitting and development in the region. ACFN is now left wondering whether its resources could have been better spent educating the world about the adverse impacts of Canada’s tar sands rather than participate in the panel process.
“We appreciate that the Panel heard many of our concerns and created many non-binding recommendations intended to persuade the Crown to honour our Treaty and uphold the Constitution. Unfortunately, many of the Panel’s recommendations are likely to continue to fall upon deaf government ears,” stated Chief Allan Adam of the ACFN.
“The Crowns lawyers have already demonstrated their indifference for our rights during their presentations to the Panel and the Court during our constitutional challenge, we can only hope that this time will be different,” continued Adam. “This is an opportunity for the Crown to adequately work with us to translate the Panel’s recommendations into meaningful and enforceable protections for our rights and culture. We are going to the table in good faith and we expect the same from the Crowns. We will be holding them to our Treaty.”
“’Trust us’ isn’t good enough when it comes to protecting our rights and way of life. We’ve seen broken promises too many times for them to hold any worth. We need policies, regulations and hard limits in place before projects go ahead, not just rhetoric that something should be done at some time in the future. We need action now.” stated Deranger.
“It is very concerning that the project lacks adequate mitigation and will contribute to additional adverse impacts in an already devastated region. Our people are already feeling the impacts of current project in the tar sands and it’s time we saw real change. As Denesuline people, it is our responsibility to protect our lands, our rights, and all that mother earth provides for our people and regardless of this decision we will continue do just that.”
Eriel Deranger, Communication coordinator, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation: 780-903-6598