SASKATOON – A class action lawsuit brought on by two Saskatchewan First Nations targets the Government of Canada, stating it mismanaged on-reserve natural resources. The leaders of Onion Lake Cree Nation and Poundmaker Cree Nation filed a statement of claim Monday in Saskatoon.
Combined damages for Canada’s 72 oil-producing First Nations would total $3 billion, according to members of Sutts, Strosberg LLP, the firm behind the suit.
“They didn’t lift a finger to help any people of the reserves getting drained and that’s the shame here,” said Blaine Favel, legal advisor to Sutts, Strosberg LLP.
Lawyers for the First Nations argue Indian Oil and Gas Canada – the federal body responsible for regulating first nations oil and gas – failed to promote and develop the land’s resources.
Bands are not allowed to sell reserve land to oil companies, leaving them obligated to seek licensing from Indian Oil and Gas.
Reservoirs spanning reserve and non-reserve land have been left to be drained by companies adjacent to the reserve, according to the statement of claim.
“That’s the way things go in the industry, so that’s why we lost lots of oil,” said Chief Duane Antoine of Poundmaker Cree Nation.
Poundmaker has 41 wells drilled with 10 producing, according to the statement filed in court. In contrast, the claim alleges 242 wells have been drilled next to the reserve – 86 of which are producing.
The lawsuit also calls for an audit of Indian Oil and Gas Canada.
“We could’ve used our funding, and the rest of the First Nations impacted by this, providing adequate housing, adequate training, et cetera,” said Chief Wallace Fox of Onion Lake Cree Nation.
There are 72 oil and gas producing first nations in Canada eligible for the class action. Harvey Strosberg of Sutts, Strosberg LLP said more First Nations are interested in joining the lawsuit.
The firm is hoping the matter can be settled, rather than litigated in court.
In a statement from the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, a spokesperson acknowledged the claim and said it’s currently being reviewed.
“Honouring Canada’s lawful obligations to Indigenous people and working collaboratively to renew the relationship based on recognition, rights, respect, co-operation and partnership is key to achieving reconciliation with Indigenous people in Canada,” the statement said.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde commended the leaders of Onion Lake and Poundmaker.
“Based on our natural resource wealth, First Nations should be among the wealthiest in Canada. But federal mismanagement and neglect of its fiduciary duties has resulted in lost revenue for First Nations, perpetuating a cycle of poverty,” Bellegarde said in a news release.
With files from The Canadian Press.