Feb 25, 2009

Buffalo River Dene Nation: Government Urged to Acknowledge Pollution

Active ImageDene Nation leaders have called on the Alberta Government to apply more attention to oilsands pollution.
Below is an article published by: CBC News

Two organizations are calling on the Alberta government to pay more attention to the impacts of the oilsands pollution on waters downstream in the Northwest Territories.

The Alberta-based Pembina Institute released a 50-page report on Monday [23 February 2009], recommending a halt to further oilsands development near Fort McMurray, Alta., until the Alberta government finishes a transboundary agreement with the Northwest Territories government on water.

That boundary agreement should be enforceable and include arms-length monitoring of water quality and quantity, said Peggy Holroyd, the institute's director of Arctic energy solutions.

"It's just a matter of recommending it be done now, and in advance of further oilsands development," Holroyd told CBC News on Monday [23 February 2009].

"Our recommendation also is that it be binding, legally binding. Right now, there's one between the Yukon and Northwest Territories; it's not legally binding. And so there's no recourse for either jurisdiction if the conditions of the agreement are not upheld."

Aboriginal leaders with the Dene Nation passed similar recommendations at their leadership conference last week [February 2009] in Yellowknife.

In addition to stopping further oilsands work, the Dene Nation wants the N.W.T. Association of Communities to call on the Alberta government to create emergency plans should oilsands tailings ponds — which contain toxic waste products from oilsands work — break open. It also wants a 10-year plan to reclaim all existing tailings ponds that would not release effluents into the rivers.

Dene leaders say there should be more northern involvement in oilsands-related discussions and planning, including any plans that would allow water from the tailings ponds to flow into the Athabasca River.

Francois Paulette of the Smith's Landing First Nation in Fort Smith, N.W.T., who presented the recommendations at the Dene Nation conference, said he doubts the provincial government will respond to them.

"If that's their track record, then [that] might just as well happen here in the Northwest Territories. We'll have to wait and see," said Paulette.
"Right now, they're not talking to the territorial government or the First Nations about what's happening on the river on this side or the territory's side. That's pretty evident."

Negotiations between Alberta and the Northwest Territories were suspended 18 months ago [2007], while the territorial government pursues work on its own water strategy. N.W.T. Environment Minister Michael Miltenberger said talks with Alberta will likely resume in about a year [2010].

"We're all trying to get to the same place, which is to make sure we look after the water, that we have a clear say in the Northwest Territories," Miltenberger said.

"Transboundary agreements are very important, because the issues … that affect us are coming to us from the south, so we're trying to make sure that we address all those issues."

Holroyd said she is hopeful that their recommendations will be implemented.

"With [U.S. President Barack] Obama's recent visit to Canada and pressure on the federal government to improve its policies around climate change, we're hoping that this study on water and other studies on climate change will put more and more pressure so we can see a real change," she said.