This challenge we face in the rights of Mother Earth and all living beings is not about our oil consumption in the lipstick and spandex we wear. It’s not about the automobiles we drive and the carbon footprint we leave in the jets in which we fly. Those are the red herrings of the oil industry executives. This is about the air that we breathe and the water that we drink. No matter your race, color or creed, this challenge is about you.
You can help a small Cree community challenge industry and the Canadian government – in court – because it’s the only way to stop the destruction of our land, water, plants, animals, and all that gives life for our future generations. We are preparing for what could potentially be the biggest court battle in Canada’s history – Beaver Lake Cree Nation versus the unmitigated expansion of the Alberta tar sands.
Beaver Lake Cree First Nation is a signatory to Treaty 6 – an agreement between two sovereign nations that dates back to 1876. Under the commonwealth, the nation state of Canada was and is bound by the promise that our way of life would be protected – As long as the sun shines, the grass grows, and the rivers flow. In 1982, Canada strengthened this promise with enduring constitutional protection. Since then, the Supreme Court of Canada has twice said industry’s right to develop lands over the objections of First Nations is limited.
The problem is those limits have yet to be clearly defined. And without clear limits, state-sanctioned tar sands industrial expansion continues to trample through our territories destroying the resources, and willfully ignoring the treaty-promised rights of the First Nations people of this land.
Enough is Enough: Beaver Lake Cree Nation has drawn a line in the tar sand. Our nation is suing Canada and Alberta to stop the over-development of in situ/SAGD tar sands developments to save what is left of our homeland and its resources. This isn’t just for us. This is for anyone who breathes air and drinks water. We are all affected by the largest industrial project on this planet.
It’s not too late! In fact, if we’re going to save our planet, NOW is the time. Yes, industry has moved in, but no, it has not yet destroyed everything worth saving. And no, it is not too late to intervene. Success of this litigation means First Nations acting as stewards of the Earth will determine what development will look like in our traditional territory.
The governments fought hard to have this case thrown out of court, because the legal precedents weigh heavily against them. Now, with a judgment that this will go to trial, the two governments hope we’ll be defeated either by the cost of the litigation, or by the time it takes to gather the necessary resources to get this case in front of the judge, before the health of our land is irreversible.
~~ Crystal Lameman, band member, Beaver Lake Cree Nation
This is a precedent setting case. Beaver Lake is a small nation with limited resources. Even so, the leadership has committed to putting several hundred thousand dollars toward the evidence gathering. But that will not be enough to build the whole case that answers the basic question: Are the cumulative impacts of the tar sands development in BLCN’s territory risking the treaty rights or rendering them meaningless? The community needs financial support in order to participate in the democratic process and assert our treaty and constitutional rights.
In 2012, 728 donors raised $34K to pay for mapping that is critical to show the extent of development in the territory. In order to advance this case and get to trial, more preparatory work needs to be complete.
$40,000 is needed to hire a ethnohistorian to collect the oral history from the community.
BLCN elders and tradition keepers have kept stories and legends relating to places, events, spiritual matters, burials, ceremonial areas, communal gathering sites, the location of medicinal plants and berries, as well as other important cultural matters alive for generations.
A report from the ethnohistorian is the cornerstone of success for this litigation because it will tie BLCN to their land. An ethno historian will offer a history of BLCN to demonstrate direct links between traditional cultural practices and modern day land use. This report will establish for the courts the reliability of oral history as a valid source of evidence; gather data to corroborate BLCN claims to the relevance of treaty promises; address the cultural importance of particular plants, animals and spaces, and the impacts of industrial development on land, culture and community.
The onus is on the community to demonstrate entitlement to their territory. Canada will try to prove that BLCN still have the ability to hunt, somewhere in the vast expand of the boreal forest. But Treaty 6 promised a ‘meaningful’ right to hunt and that is what needs to be defined by the courts.
BLCN must show the court what its way of life was and is; what the past and future effects of development will be; and what needs to be done to limit development. Canada hopes that BLCN will be defeated either by the costs of litigation or the fact that they will be unable to get their case to trial before the land is gone.
This case is about limiting the development of the tar sands and protecting the constitutionally protected treaty rights of people who live in the path of the expansion. Energy, mining and forestry projects are typically judged case-by-case, but BLCN argues the overall effect of numerous projects hinders their traditional way of life. BLCN believes its ability to hunt, fish, and trap is curtailed because of roughly 300 projects in which about 19,000 permits have been granted.
This is where I grew up.
My name is Crystal Lameman and I am a member of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation. I am a mother, a daughter, a granddaughter, an aunt, a niece, a friend. I am someone who loves where she comes from, my roots, my place of birth, my home; but my home is under attack by and industry and a government that will stop at nothing to get the tar sands from the ground.
The tar sands are the size of England and Wales combined and are the largest industrial project in the world.3 Two of the three major tar sands developments fall within our territory, located about two hours North East of Edmonton, Alberta.
The abundant Northern caribou we have traditionally hunted are now dwindling, an animal once in abundance now a population of approximately 175-275. My children can’t safely drink the water straight from the land, the way I did as a child. There are reports of deer with green meat and moose with puss bubbles under the skin. Medicines that are natural to us, disappearing because they rely on a healthy eco system. As a member of the Beaver Lake Cree I’ve seen the devastating impacts of the tar sands firsthand and I’m not alone.
Every day more people like you are hearing our story and saying enough is enough. This story is about the mobilization of the grassroots people where I come from and about the mobilization of the grassroots people in your community. This cannot be done alone, this is a collective fight to stop big oil, how much are you willing to contribute in helping the Beaver Lake Cree fund the next critical step in this historically precedent setting challenge?
Over 19,000 permits to date have been granted to every major oil company in the world within the traditional hunting territory of the Beaver Lake Cree, without their consent. Why do I continue to return to the question of consent? Because First Nation’s Rights – enshrined as Aboriginal Rights in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 – are arguably some of the most important emerging rights on the Canadian legal landscape and certainly the most powerful environmental rights in the country. Thus, when these megaprojects are destroying the First Nations rights to hunt, trap, and fish which are in direct violation of our Constitutional rights – The highest law in Canada, then there is grounds to challenge.
Raising funds for the cumulative impacts study is one critical step in raising the necessary funds to mount the full legal challenge, further funding is needed which would cover fees like evidence gathering by elders; expert wildlife and environmental impacts research and reports; historical research, analysis and reports; and procedural costs like document discovery, writing arguments, and attending case management hearings.
If the tar sands are found to be unconstitutional, existing and future tar sands development will no longer be permitted to proceed without the consent of the Beaver Lake Cree. This would also set a precedent for other First Nations near or around the development areas, who could issue similar court challenges and potentially stop further tar sands expansion on their lands.
Billions of dollars is being taken out of the traditional territory by tar sands projects every year, yet here we are born into 3rd world living conditions in a 1st world country, suffering from endemic poverty, high unemployment, and severe health problems.
R.A.V.E.N.’s Executive Director, Susan Smitten points out that, “It’s not fair to rely on the poorest people in our nation to stand alone and be the voice of reason in this effort. They have the power of their treaties to protect the planet, and we have the power of a nation to support them. I just encourage people to get behind the line they’ve figuratively and literally drawn in the tar sand.”
If we raise $40,000, we can move forward with crucial evidence gathering and bring this case one big step closer to a day in court. As Indigenous peoples we are standing up to protect the land, water and our collective future, not only for us but for the very existence of the human race. Please take a stand.
~ In Solidarity, Crystal Lameman