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Mikisew Cree First Nation official says Frontier oilsands mine deal includes vote on future development

Chief Archie Waquan, left to right, former Chief Steve Courtoreille with Director of Government and Industry relations Melody Lepine, and lead counsel Robert Janes leave after holding a press conference to respond to the Supreme Court of Canada's decision on Courtoreille v. Canada in Edmonton, Alberta, on Thursday, Oct.11, 2018. .
Chief Archie Waquan, left to right, former Chief Steve Courtoreille with Director of Government and Industry relations Melody Lepine, and lead counsel Robert Janes leave after holding a press conference to respond to the Supreme Court of Canada's decision on Courtoreille v. Canada in Edmonton, Alberta, on Thursday, Oct.11, 2018. . THE CANADIAN PRESS/Amber Bracken

The industry relations director for the Mikisew Cree First Nation says the community’s support of the massive Frontier oilsands open pit mining project includes an ongoing voice in how future development unfolds.

Melody Lepine says the confidential agreement it signed last fall with developer Teck Resources Ltd. includes a provision requiring new negotiations before the company begins to mine its north pit, which would take it closer to Wood Buffalo National Park than any previous oilsands development.

READ MORE: Groups want Wood Buffalo National Park on list of World Heritage Sites in danger

She says Teck will have to prove that it will address environmental concerns about water flow and quality in the Peace-Athabasca River delta from Frontier, which is designed to produce 260,000 barrels of bitumen per day for 41 years.

Lepine says Mikisew doesn’t quite have a “veto” on opening the new pit but the agreement puts pressure on Teck and makes it difficult for north pit mining to proceed if the First Nation isn’t satisfied.

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Mikisew was the last of 14 local Indigenous groups to sign support agreements with Teck last fall, just before the project went to a joint federal-provincial review panel that is expected to render a decision next summer.

READ MORE: Alberta oilsands mine inks ‘participation agreement’ with Mikisew Cree First Nation

Teck manager of Indigenous affairs Robin Johnstone says the deal includes what amounts to a “no-development option,” adding that leaving unsettled part of the legal agreement with the Mikisew Cree was a “real step-out” for his company.

“We essentially said we think that we can mine the north pit in an environmentally appropriate manner, but we’re going to take the first 30-odd years of mine life to actually prove to you that we will do that,” he said during a panel discussion at the Forward Summit Indigenous business conference in Calgary.

“When it’s coming to the end of our mine life and we’re having to proceed to mine the north pit, we’re going to go through a process that’s going to include a ‘no development option’ and we’re going to work through that with you. So we’re really putting things on the line.”