Media Release

For immediate release

June 20, 2018

 

Northeast Alberta First Nations and Province say parks announcement heralds new era

Enhanced protection for additional ecologically and culturally significant lands and Treaty rights imminent

 

Alberta —Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Fort McKay First Nation and Mikisew Cree First Nation congratulate the Government of Alberta on the May 15 announcement of five new or expanded wildland provincial parks in northeast Alberta.

These new parks expand the protection of pristine wilderness in northeast Alberta to create the world’s largest protected boreal forest that stretches across the traditional territories of these three First Nations. In some cases, these new parks overlap with important habitat for species at risk such as woodland caribou and wood bison and, ideally, will help in their recovery.

Alberta’s May 15 announcement—and the further engagement of northeast Alberta First Nations to develop co-management strategies for these parks—indicates Alberta is prepared to acknowledge and better protect traditional land uses, cultural practices and the Section 35 Treaty rights of First Nations in their traditional territories, which have been upheld by several courts across Canada in recent years.

The three First Nations that issued this release and the Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation have been engaged in a year-long collaborative process with the Alberta government to renew the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan (LARP). The 2015 Panel Review of LARP found it was adopted without sufficient consultation with Indigenous communities. These First Nations have been working collaboratively with Alberta Environment and Parks to build improvements to LARP, including the consideration of new draft biodiversity and Indigenous culture frameworks.

These improvements to LARP are especially important to Athabasca region First Nations because they relate to areas of significant cultural and ecological value in northeast Alberta, where reconciling the rights and interests of First Nations with those of oil sands developers has posed particular challenges.

Jim Boucher, Chief of the Fort McKay First Nation, said, “We have been working to enhance protection of the Moose Lake area, our last refuge from oil sands development, for two decades. Alberta has engaged in a collaborative process to develop enhanced protection measures for Moose Lake that will produce a Moose Lake Access Management Plan in the autumn of 2018. The Plan will provide regulatory certainty to oil sands developers with leases in the area and ensure Fort McKay members can pass on our traditional practices to future generations on lands we have occupied for millennia. Protecting our Treaty rights and the environment can go hand-in-hand with responsible energy development.”

“Our government is committed to working together with First Nations to achieve meaningful collaboration in the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan—now and in the future,” said Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips. “For too long, our regional planning process did not provide the opportunity for Indigenous people to be involved in decisions about the land. This opportunity for cooperative management of Alberta parks is a first step. We know there’s more to do, and we will continue to work with Indigenous peoples on regional planning, land management and other important issues to renew relationships, strengthen partnerships, and build greater understanding for Indigenous heritage, culture and traditional knowledge.”

Archie Waquan, Chief of Mikisew Cree First Nation, said, “We are happy for Tallcree and look forward to similar progress between our Nations and the provincial government to fulfill its commitment to address our concerns with LARP.

“We have been working diligently with Alberta and local industry to identify and protect habitat critical to biodiversity and the “Outstanding Universal Value” to be found in the Peace-Athabasca Delta, part of the Wood Buffalo National Park and a World Heritage Site, which UNESCO and the World Heritage Committee have reported is in trouble. Action now is essential to ensure these lands support our traditions and way-of-life in one of the most ecologically significant regions in Canada, that has also been home to our people for thousands of years. We look forward to the governments of Canada and Alberta partnering with Mikisew to enshrine that protection.”

The First Nations of the Athabasca region have also been working with Indigenous Relations to revise Alberta’s Consultation Policy to better assess the impacts of industrial activity on First Nations’ Treaty rights and interests, and to improve the mitigation and accommodation of those impacts on rights guaranteed by the Constitution of Canada.

“Alberta is committed to ensuring that Indigenous people have a voice in how Alberta manages its natural resources,” said Richard Feehan, Minister of Indigenous Relations. “The co-management of these new parks is an important step along the path to reconciliation and I congratulate both the communities and Minister Phillips on the important work they are doing.”

All parties, including Alberta, look forward to new policy announcements in the fall that demonstrate the Province’s commitment to, as Minister Feehan said in Alberta’s May 15 release about the creation of the new wildland provincial parks, “reconciliation and … respect for Indigenous heritage and traditional knowledge.”

 

MEDIA CONTACTS
Lisa Tssessaze, Director

Dene Lands and Resource Management

Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation lisa.tssessaze@acfn.com

(780) 791-3311

Jauvonne Kitto, Executive Director

Administration and Governance

Fort McKay First Nation

jkitto@fortmckay.com

(403) 710-4479

Melody Lepine, Director

Government and Industry Relations

Mikisew Crew First Nation melody.lepine@mcfngir.ca

(780) 792-8736

 

 

 

 

Backgrounder

New Wildland Provincial Parks and LARP

The five new Wildland Provincial Parks announced May 15 were first identified by the previous government during the development of LARP.  One of the criteria specified in the selection of new conservation lands was that they were “areas of little to no industrial activity” (LARP, p.30). In other words, no new oil sands development was anticipated in any of these lands—where once leases had existed, Alberta had already bought them back—with the intention of adding them to conservation lands. Most of these lands are also too remote for timber harvest. Some of the new parks are expected to benefit woodland caribou recovery.

Completed in 2012, LARP was the first regional plan completed by the Government of Alberta intended to manage land use, cumulative effects and guide resource development in the Lower Athabasca region. In 2012 and years since, five environmental management frameworks have been established to protect air and water quality, water quantity, groundwater and to manage tailings impoundments. However, frameworks, or even indicators, to protect biodiversity and Indigenous culture and rights have yet to be developed.

A 2015 Panel review of LARP concluded that the plan did not adequately protect areas that were meaningful to regional First Nations, nor did it include any management tools to protect the rights of Indigenous peoples. Nonetheless, regulators have repeatedly referred to LARP to assert that Indigenous peoples’ rights are protected, in direct refutation of the review panel’s findings.

In 2016, the three northeast Alberta First Nations listed above initiated a collaborative process with Alberta to address these shortcomings and propose solutions. Significant progress is anticipated for Fall 2018 that will augment the single largest addition to Alberta’s parks system. The Nations expect interim measures will begin to address cumulative effects and impacts to Treaty rights, as well as improve existing environmental management frameworks for air quality, water quality, and water quantity. Proposals regarding equally important biodiversity and Indigenous culture frameworks are under discussion.

For more information:

“Creating world’s largest boreal protected forest.” GoA news release, 15 May 2018. https://www.alberta.ca/release.cfm?xID=55951F7FBFC21-B342-F69F-2BB2163D213E56F7.

Lower Athabasca Regional Plan (LARP) https://landuse.alberta.ca/LandUse%20Documents/Lower%20Athabasca%20Regional%20Plan% 202012-2022%20Approved%202012-08.pdf.

“First Nations say Alberta silencing their voice.”

https://globalnews.ca/news/1526878/first-nations-say-alberta-silencing-their-voice/.

LARP Review Panel Report

https://open.alberta.ca/dataset/5c910acf-9e8c-46b5-b52d-60fc8bd2bbbd/resource/d9a6bff5-f9b5- 45fe-81ed-a8de3492e271/download/2016-Review-Panel-Report-2015-Lower-Athabasca- Regional-Plan-2016-06-22.pdf.

 

Efforts underway to improve conservation objectives in Wood Buffalo National Park, a Natural World Heritage Site in Canada

The Nations look forward to working with UNESCO World Heritage Committee (WHC) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to respond to their joint 2017 report on Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP). The WHC concluded that industrial development impacts on the park are severe and called for an effective buffer to be established around its southern boundary. Mikisew Cree First Nation first proposed to Alberta a conservation area south of WBNP as part of its Ronald Lake Biodiversity Stewardship Area (BSA) three years ago but still has obstacles to overcome.

The Government of Alberta recently proposed to ARFN member Nations a co-management program for the Ronald Lake bison herd to be implemented in 2019. The Ronald Lake herd is the last remaining disease-free herd of wild wood bison in Alberta. Other populations are infected with bovine tuberculosis.

The Mikisew Cree will be attending the 42nd session of the WHC in Manama, Bahrain beginning June 24 to maintain focus on the Peace-Athabasca Delta and Canada’s obligation to prepare a WBNP Action Plan that involves the Alberta government.

For more information:

Mikisew Cree First Nation Ronald Lake Biodiversity Stewardship Area

http://mikisewgir.com/bsa/.

State of Conservation 2017 – Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada https://whc.unesco.org/en/soc/3615.

UNESCO World Heritage Committee Report on Wood Buffalo National Park: https://whc.unesco.org/en/documents/156893.

Moose Lake Area

The Nations are also cautiously optimistic about the pace of progress to implement the Moose Lake Access Management Plan (MLAMP). This process was initiated by the late Premier Jim Prentice, who assured Fort McKay First Nation in 2015 that Fort McKay’s heartland and final refuge from industrial development would be protected. Fort McKay First Nation and Alberta have undertaken a two-year long negotiation to identify special management tools, such as stringent air and water quality limits, and access and development controls that would protect Moose Lake while still allowing regulated oil sands development.

On June 12, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) approved Prosper’s Rigel SAGD Project without significant conditions inside the area designated by MLAMP. The approval is not consistent with plans to enhance environmental protection at Moose Lake. Fort McKay First Nation, in particular, is deeply disappointed with AER’s decision and will challenge it in the court system even as the Nation continues working with Alberta to protect Moose Lake.

With the conclusion of public consultation on the draft MLAMP, Fort McKay anticipates that Alberta will move quickly to implement MLAMP in Fall 2018 and Fort McKay looks forward to resolving outstanding issues arising out of increased development pressure.

Fort McKay will also be attending the 42nd session of the WHC in Manama, Bahrain.

 

For more information:

Draft Moose Lake Management Zone Plan released. GoA news release, 16 February 2018. https://www.alberta.ca/release.cfm?xID=52421444A7C71-BB61-CD7A-621D064F4B04181C.

“Fort McKay First Nation cautiously optimistic that culturally significant Moose Lake area will finally be protected. News release, 5 March 2018.”

http://www.fortmckay.com/press-release-fort-mckay-first-nation-cautiously-optimistic-that- culturally-significant-moose-lake-area-will-finally-be-protected/.

Fort McKay: Building a Strong Community (includes video)

http://www.fortmckay.com/moose-lake/.

 

MEDIA CONTACTS
Lisa Tssessaze, Director

Dene Lands and Resource Management

Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation lisa.tssessaze@acfn.com

(780) 215-2419

Jauvonne Kitto, Executive Director

Administration and Governance

Fort McKay First Nation jkitto@fortmckay.com

(403) 710-4479

Melody Lepine, Director

Government and Industry Relations

Mikisew Crew First Nation melody.lepine@mcfngir.ca

(780) 792-8736