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 with Rob Miskosky

Somebody Has to Save us from Ourselves

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.
– Crystal Lameman, Beaver Lake Cree Nation

Where the Crown (either federal or provincial) is making a decision which might have the effect of infringing an Aboriginal or treaty right there is an obligation on the Crown to consult with the rights holder. Ultimately, if such a right would be infringed, in Canada the Crown cannot proceed without accommodation and justification. The Crown is expected to proceed in a way that creates the least infringement necessary, and it is potentially subject to provide compensation for any loss suffered as the result of such infringement. This is an important issue for resource developers in Canada who are relying on Crown allocations or decisions, which might cause an infringement.

– Robert J.M. Adkins and Sacha Paul for The Lawyers Weekly

JB Struthers has written in the past that when First Nations no longer have the ability to hunt, fish and trap on their traditional lands that the provincial and federal governments of Canada would find themselves in a pickle. Those certainly aren’t Struthers’ exact words but you get the drift.

When the ancestors of our First Nations reluctantly agreed to sign treaties back in the late 1800’s, they were explicit in that they would only turn over their rights to the land if they were guaranteed the right to hunt, fish and trap from those lands until the day the sun failed to shine upon them. In effect, they needed assurance that their ability to maintain traditional lifestyles would be enshrined for eternity. Our ancestors agreed to those rights and as such, treaties were born. However, it appears “Whiteman speak with forked tongue.”

In fairness, at that time, neither side would have been aware of the looming battle for the resources that those lands held so many years later. If our First Nations had been able to see into the future, those treaties would never have been signed. On many of those lands, population growth, agricultural and industrial development and resource extraction has reached the pinnacle; perhaps to the point where there is no going back.

According to the Tar Sands Solution Network (, “Eighty percent of the traditional territory of the Mikisew Cree and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations has been rendered inaccessible for most of the year by tar sands development, and the Beaver Lake Cree have documented 20,000 treaty rights violations.”

Which obviously doesn’t sit too well with them because on May 14, 2008, “The Beaver Lake Cree released their Kétuskéno Declaration asserting their role as caretakers of their traditional territories and started a legal action to: a) enforce recognition of their Constitutionally protected rights to hunt, trap and fish, and b) protect the ecological integrity of their territories.”

In their 2008 press release they state, “They have seen the forests they depend on for their livelihood riddled with oil wells, criss-crossed with roads and seismic lines and emptied of wildlife. They have seen their constitutionally protected rights disregarded and the local environment degraded... and “At the time of signing, Beaver Lake’s ancestors were assured that the newcomers “would not interfere with their daily life” and that they would be able to continue making their living from hunting, trapping and fishing.”

The Beaver Lake Cree Nation (BLCN) territory in Alberta is huge, running from between the north banks of the North Saskatchewan River to Fort Chipewyan, including the Beaver, Athabasca and Peace Rivers basins.

It has now been seven years since the BLCN launched their court case and after much wrangling between them and the provincial and federal governments, the parties are now waiting for a court date to be set.

Over in British Columbia, on March 3 of this year, the Blueberry River First Nations (BRFN) launched a claim against the Province of British Columbia saying, “BRFN brings this claim against the Crown to stop the consistent and increasingly accelerated degradation of the Nations’ traditional territory, and to protect and enforce the Nations’ constitutionally protected rights under Treaty 8 against the cumulative impacts of Crown authorized activities on their traditional territory.”

“There are vast dark zones in our territory where we are no longer able to practice our treaty rights,” said BRFN Chief Marvin Yahey during a news conference.

Much like the Beaver Lake Cree Nation near Lac La Biche in Alberta, the BRFN are claiming that their lands have been changed so much because of industrial development that it would be unrecognizable to their ancestors.

They too have had enough!

It seems a shame that the descendants of those long-ago natives that signed over the rights to the land might well be the ones who have to save them from those they were entrusted to. ■

For previous Outdoor Pursuits click here.

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