RAVEN - Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs

Beaver Lake Cree

Beaver Lake Cree Nation vs Alberta and Canada

In May 2014, it was six years since Beaver Lake Cree Nation launched its legal action aimed at protecting their traditional lands and treaty rights. RAVEN has been crucial in assisting with funds to stave off the motions and appeals by Canada and Alberta to have the whole thing thrown out of court before it even got to trial!! In 2013, BLCN got the green light from Alberta Appeal Court to take their unprecedented legal challenge to trial.

Beaver Lake Cree Nation is a community of 900 Woodland Cree whose homelands are in the path of the largest industrial project on earth. Their courageous fight to protect their hunting grounds is also the world’s fight – to prevent expansion of the climate-destroying tar sands developments in Alberta.

The BLCN’s constitutional rights are the strongest environmental laws in Canada (and possibly the world) now that the Canadian federal government has gutted Canada’s environmental legislation. (The oil industry would like you to believe that the in situ or underground sites aren’t that bad – because they don’t look as ugly as the open pits – but in fact they’re just as bad if not worse. Check out the myth-busting Greenpeace report.)

This is critical. The fight of the Beaver Lake Cree to protect their hunting grounds and fishing waters is supported by those who see the massive destruction of the landscape as an environmental crime, and those who fear that the carbon released by the heavy oil projects may take the planet’s climate past the tipping point.

Flora Gladue, BLCN member ~ The fish don’t taste good any more because of the pollution from the oil sands. They used to be pure fish, clean fish. Now, with all the pollution from oil sands development, they don’t taste the same.

This is winnable.

These rights—unlike the environmental laws gutted by Canada and Alberta in recent years – cannot be taken away at the stroke of the government’s pen. Beaver Lake’s rights will demand rigorous scrutiny of developments that threaten the lands, waters and wildlife that have supported Beaver Lake for centuries. Success in this case would mean that it would become much harder if not impossible to expand oil sands projects over the objections of Beaver Lake and other First Nations in the region.

The law is clearly on the side of First Nations. The only barrier to justice and victory in this case is the high cost of the legal system. Canada and Alberta do not want to lose this case, and they are putting up a serious fight.

Key Case Information and FAQs

Summary of Case

Alberta and Canada have far exceeded the land’s capacity for development. They have recklessly authorized oil sands projects, military facilities and other development without any real regard for the rights of Beaver Lake and other Treaty Nations. While any one of these projects by themselves might be tolerable taken together they threaten to destroy BLCN’s way of life and the land that has sustained them for centuries. Alberta and Canada of course take a different view – they say they were entitled to ignore BLCN’s rights; they say they took their rights away from them; they say their environmental laws are good enough. BLCN is asking the courts to hold Canada and Alberta to account for what they have done and make it clear that there is a limit to development and they have ignored it.

Canada’s environmental laws have been steadily weakened, with the passing of Bill C-38 and the shutting down of the Experimental Lake Area as the latest blows. Yet protection for aboriginal and treaty rights have been strengthened – even as recently as the June 27, 2012 BC Supreme Court of Appeal ruling (found at this link http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/CA/12/02/2012BCCA0285.htm).

The Treaty

The people of BLCN were promised that they could keep their way of life – that they would have what they had and would have the benefits of the treaty as well. In return they would live in peace with the newcomers. Their ancestors would have never imagined – or agreed to – anything like what has happened. If the government wanted more they should have said so and negotiated fairly and honestly. All they are doing is holding the government to the promises they made – not just the words they chose to write down on the paper the chiefs could not read.

Cumulative Effects

While every project matters this Beaver Lake is not just fighting one project – they are concerned about the way the government has allowed their whole land to be made unrecognizable. They are affected by oil sands projects, conventional oil and gas, military bases, agriculture, roads and pipelines – how can it be that the governments completely forgo about them in this process?

Is This Case Just About the Money?

There is a damages claim but the big effect of this case – when they win – is that it would make it clear that there is a limit to what Canada and Alberta can do to BLCN and their land. It would make it clear that they cannot continue to push pass Beaver Lake and do what they want on their lands. This is far more important than the money and has a far greater effect. This case is about protecting the future not just about money for the past.

Why Has This Case Taken So Long?

This is huge case that is pushing the envelope of the law. We always knew it was going to take time to do right and are committed to doing what needs to be done to make sure the courts hear the best possible case. It does not help that BLCN is a small nation and has limited resources – sometimes we have to pause while we re-group and build strength.

Does This Have to Go to Court?

So far the Governments of Canada and Alberta have shown no signs of wanting to seriously speak to the band about their concerns. It is hard to see how their needs can be addressed if the Governments just plan to do what they have always done.

RAVEN intervened to attempt to bring some fairness to this situation. We provide resources needed so that native leaders have access to the necessary research, preparation and legal support. Without this, native causes are bound to fail in non-native legal systems simply for lack of funds. RAVEN’s mission is to redress this inherent imbalance and to obtain justice in the courts for First Nations struggling to protect rights and lands, and to ultimately protect the planet we all live on.

Through amazing donors, foundations and socially responsible corporations like the Cooperative Bank in Manchester, UK, RAVEN has raised more than $950,000 to keep the legal action alive.

YOU play a crucial role in the outcome of this effort. Because of people like you, the Beaver Lake Cree have made it through Phase One – the hurdle of getting to an actual trial. Now the work of gathering evidence, scientific reports and writing arguments begins.

What does Beaver Lake need?

  • First, this case requires substantial support from expert witnesses who can describe the history of Beaver Lake and Treaty 6, substantiate the progress of development across the territory and demonstrate the cumulative effect of this development on critical wildlife populations and patterns of land use. These experts include wildlife biologists, satellite mapping specialists, ecologists, anthropologists and historians.
  • Second, Beaver Lake needs assistance in pulling together and presenting its community members’ evidence. This evidence will be crucial in demonstrating both the importance of the First Nation’s connection to the land for its community’s culture, identity and future and the reality of the effects of development.
  • Third, support is needed to help pay for the legal team carrying the litigation and the substantial amount of pre-trial and trial work that will be needed to bring this case to a successful conclusion.

Practically the greatest challenge Beaver Lake faces is maintaining a steady pace of trial preparation and evidence collection. From the perspective of the governments and industry, delay furthers their approach as it makes it harder to protect the undeveloped lands that remain and avoid the creation of commitments to industry and others.

Pressing this case ahead in steady way towards reasonable trial date is a monumental task for a small First Nation situated in Northern Alberta. Beaver Lake is using its own resources to push this case along as best it can but outside financial support is needed to make this case a success.

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