The group filed a lawsuit in provincial court last Friday, saying the government shouldn’t allow an oilsands development close to the remote reserve until an environmental protection plan has been completed.
The Alberta Consultation Office has passed along an application by Prosper Petroleum Ltd. for an oilsands lease on the border of the reserves, located approximately 60 kilometres northwest of Fort McKay in the Birch Mountains Wildlands, to the Alberta Energy Regulator for processing.
“Alberta has breached its duty of honourable dealings,” said Alvaro Pinto, director of strategy and sustainability for Fort McKay First Nation.
Pinto says they have been negotiating with Environment Minister Shannon Phillips and other officials for over a year to develop the “Moose Lake Access Management Plan” that would slow the pace of oil extraction projects around the reserve and protect traditional activities in the lands.
The concern is that the AER will approve the Prosper project before the management plan is implemented by the province, allowing for faster development and less protection of the lands, considered sacred by the First Nation. The regulator has no jurisdiction to consider treaty rights, and doesn’t have the power to delay approval due to ongoing protection negotiations, according to FMFN.
“One department of government is barreling ahead with development while Minister Phillips and other government officials are working with us to protect the same area from development,” Chief Jim Boucher said in a statement. “It is extremely distressing for our community that Alberta’s promise may not be fulfilled because of conflicting directions/decisions by the ACO.”
Pinto says while the government recently developed an “Integrated Resource Management Strategy,” it doesn’t seem like departments are working together.
“It may be a reflection that the system is not working entirely integrated, as it was supposed to do,” he said. “There shouldn’t be a decision by one department that compromises what the other departments are trying to do.”
News of the lawsuit comes on the same day that Premier Rachel Notley is signing an agreement with Treaty 8 First Nations, which encompasses all of northern Alberta, on a new “Protocol Agreement” that will allow Chiefs to regularly meet with government and develop joint strategies to address issues of concern.
A land claim by the FMFN was settled for the Moose Lake reserve in 2005, giving the First Nation the ability to build cabins for their community members to use alongside structures already built by other members. The FMFN sees it as sacred land where many of their ancestors are buried, and as one of the last areas far enough away from oilsands development where they can hunt, fish, and trap peacefully.