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Alberta first nation waits on province’s next move after losing oilsands review

Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam speaks on March 20, 2013 in Ottawa.
Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam speaks on March 20, 2013 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

EDMONTON – A northern Alberta first nation that is fighting a major oilsands expansion says it won’t decide what to do next until it sees how Premier Jim Prentice’s government consults with aboriginals.

“We’re saying, ‘OK, let’s continue to address our concerns,’ because today we feel like nothing has happened to address our concerns,” Eriel Deranger, spokeswoman for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, said Thursday.

Last month, the band lost its application for a judicial review of federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq’s decision to approve Shell’s Jackpine project. The band had argued that despite holding several meetings with its members, Canada had failed to try to accommodate their concerns.

Federal Court Justice Daniele Tremblay-Lamer ruled on Dec. 9 that the government had done enough and that First Nations can’t expect to have all their concerns addressed.

READ MORE: Shell’s jackpine mine gets nod from Ottawa despite environmental effects 

Chief Allan Adam was angry at the decision.

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“It’s obvious … there has not been adequate consultation to thoroughly understand the long-term impacts,” he said.

“Government deals with our rights by ‘ticking boxes’ and not dealing with the real issues.”

READ MORE: Alberta report finds Fort Chipewyan has higher rates of three kinds of cancer 

But Deranger said band leadership is also “interested” by Prentice’s promises last fall to change the way Alberta handles aboriginal relations. She pointed out that the Jackpine project still requires many permits before it can proceed and the band will see how that process unfolds before considering a move to the Supreme Court.

“If they just barrel forward and issue those permits, (the First Nation) will have some major problems.”

Their application for a judicial review of the Jackpine decision summed up frequent concerns from First Nations about Alberta’s energy industry.

READ MORE: Alberta first nation wants Shell Jackpine hearing adjourned to file appeal 

They fear the industry’s growth is damaging treaty rights by leaving less and less land on which to practise them. They say the province is systematically narrowing the scope of public hearings to exclude treaty-based arguments and, in some cases, the bands themselves.

They also accuse the province of wanting to control how much consultation is necessary. And, they say, Alberta’s land-use policies place aboriginal concerns on the same level as a snowmobile club or other stakeholders.

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