Piikani Nation members want more involvement in Alberta’s public coal consultations

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Piikani Nation members want more involvement in public coal consultations
WATCH ABOVE: As public consultations on Alberta’s coal plans draw nearer, members of the Piikani First Nation are asking for more government-to-community consultation. As Eloise Therien explains, one group feels the opinions of chief and council do not reflect how many members feel, especially when it comes to the Grassy Mountain Project. – Mar 25, 2021

A concerned group of Piikani Nation members are looking for answers ahead of public consultations on coal mining in Alberta. 

“We are comprised of nation members that have a genuine interest in the impact of coal mining that’s happening within the province of Alberta,” said Adam North Peigan, chairman of the Mountain Child Valley Society.

“We formed as a result of the membership (and) felt that they weren’t meaningfully consulted with the implementation of the Grassy Mountain project.”

In February, the province’s 1976 Coal policy was reinstated after months of public objections from environmental groups and other Albertans.

The policy — which protected segments of the province’s mountains and foothills from coal mines– had been rescinded last May without public consultation.

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It splits the province into four sections, helping to dictate where operations will occur.

According to the province, the Grassy Mountain coal project in the Crowsnest Pass is located in Category 4 lands, meaning it was not impacted by either the rescission or the reinstatement of the 1976 coal policy.

“The Grassy Mountain project is currently under review by a joint review panel, comprised of members appointed by the AER (Alberta Energy Regulator) and the federal government,” reads a statement from Energy Minister Sonya Savage.

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North Peigan said while Piikani Nation’s chief and council have voiced their approval of the nearby mining project, nation members weren’t appropriately consulted.

“Our leadership was (consulted), but it never really filtered down to the grassroots Piikani members,” North Peigan said.

Click to play video: 'Coal mining protestors gather in southern Alberta, worried about upcoming public consultation'
Coal mining protestors gather in southern Alberta, worried about upcoming public consultation

Vanessa One Owl, who conducts research into the environmental impacts of coal mining for the Mountain Child Valley Society, said having a voice in the process is very important to them.

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“This is going to affect us,” she said.

“This is going to impact us and this is going to affect our future and generations to come.”

The group penned a letter outlining their concerns and requests to Savage on March 9, and said it did not receive a response.

“We’re asking the government of Canada and the government of Alberta (to)implement a mechanism where the grassroots nation members are brought into those discussions at a minimum of 80 per cent of nation members that are consulted,” North Peigan said.

A statement issued to Global News by Savage’s office on Thursday says the government appreciates the letter from the Mountain Child Valley Society.

“Indigenous consultation and participation is foundational to developing energy resources, including coal-mining projects,” the statement reads.

It goes on to say Alberta is serious about consulting First Nations and recognizing treaty rights when decisions could adversely affect those areas.

“The Piikani Nation submitted a letter of non-objection on the Grassy Mountain project in August 2019, with full support for the good-paying jobs and revenue returns for the community” the email reads.

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“I encourage the Mountain Child Valley Society to work with Piikani Nation leadership about their concerns.”

Global News reached out to members of the Piikani council for comment, but has not heard back.

Savage said the engagement process on the modern coal policy will begin on Monday, with more details to be released “soon.”

“The government is fully committed to ensuring Indigenous communities are engaged in a manner that respects government-to-government relationships,” she said. “We will directly engage with Indigenous communities in a parallel process to widespread pubic engagement.

“In addition, Indigenous communities are encouraged to participate in the broader engagement process as they determine (what) best suits their needs.”

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