By Chief Allan Adam, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation
April 8, 2011, Fort McMurray
On April 5, 2011, Alberta Government’s Department of Sustainable Resource Development, headed by Minister Mel Knight, released the draft Lower Athabasca Region Plan (LARP). The draft plan proposes a 16% increase to conservation areas in the oil sands region, which is significantly less than the recommendations from the Regional Advisory Council (RAC), who advised up to 32%, and considerably less than recommendations from First Nations.
The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, who has aboriginal and treaty Rights throughout the LARP area are left wondering how they will sustain their traditional livelihood and protect their cultural existence on what amounts to scattered, small parcels of land. According to Chief Allan Adam the LARP represents “… an economic assimilation of our people. How can we maintain our culture, protect our livelihood and continue practicing our treaty rights under these conditions. LARP is an infringement of our Rights and the government has a duty and obligation to ensure that we have the ability to practice and maintain those Rights now and into the future.”
Chief Adam explained that “Alberta is doing more of the same thing and expecting a different result. The provincial government consistently fails to meet even our basic needs when it comes to air, land and water within the region and fails to meaningfully engage First Nations in land management decisions in accordance with our aboriginal and treaty rights. Until Alberta makes meaningful efforts to protect land, regulate industry and ensure that First Nations are at the table as full partners to develop solutions to the serious environmental challenges that government and industry are creating, they can count on our opposition to further development within the region.”
The ACFN depends on the environment in order to sustain their protected treaty right to hunt, fish and trap. The government has a duty and obligation under Treaty 8 and the Constitution Act to ensure that the environment will be protected in ways that are sufficient to sustain First Nations use of the ecosystems. The goal of Chief Adam is to ensure that the members of the ACFN have the ability to practice their treaty rights. With the inadequate process that was used to develop LARP, it is clear that the ACFN’s voice was not heard. The ACFN submitted numerous documents to the RAC regarding the environment, sustainability and the importance of the practice of the rights and culture to ACFN’s wellbeing.
At a community meeting held with the GOA in Fort Chipewyan on January 18, 2011 the ACFN membership unanimously agreed that the consultation on the LARP process was unfair. Lionel Lepine, member of the ACFN is worried about his ability to maintain his way of life and the ability to continue practicing his treaty rights. According to Lionel, “…the LARP will be a cultural annihilation. As the land continues to be developed, where will I go to teach my children their cultural way of life?” Leslie Cardinal another ACFN member stated that “The government of Canada formally endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in a manner that is consistent with Canada’s Constitution and laws. The UN Declaration is clear that Indigenous people have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations. The LARP is not consistent with the international or Canadian laws.” According to Chief Adam, “It is obvious that the ACFN was not heard and that the government is not listening. One thing is clear, we will be reviewing the LARP and what it means to our continued use and practice of our rights and make a decision on how to proceed due to the infringements.”
ACFN will be completing a detailed review of the draft LARP over the next 60 days and will continue their attempts to have Alberta consult them in a meaningful way on land and resource use planning and decision-making in the oil sands region. Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation traditional lands and treaty rights extend throughout the Lower Athabasca oil sands region. The ACFN signed Treaty 8 in 1899 at Fort Chipewyan on Lake Athabasca. Today, the majority of members reside in Fort Chipewyan and Fort McMurray.
For more information contact:
Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation
Chief Allan Adam, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation