Mikisew Cree withdraw constitutional challenge of mining project
EDMONTON — The Mikisew Cree First Nation withdrew its constitutional challenge of an oilsands mining project Wednesday in exchange for an undisclosed sum of money and a confidential "social contract."
The hearing to review Total's Joslyn North Mine project adjourned on Tuesday, after the joint federal-provincial panel was told the Mikisew Cree would challenge the project on constitutional grounds.
"Mikisew's concerns with the mine were borne out of frustration with the governments of Canada and Alberta over the mismanagement of oilsands lands in their traditional territory," said the band's lawyer, Don Mallon.
"The Mikisew Cree First Nation was promised by the government of Canada in Treaty 8 the continued right to fish, hunt, trap and carry out traditional activities in their territory in perpetuity. The Mikisew believe that Canada and Alberta have broken that promise and (so they) intervened in the Total hearing."
After a day of proceedings, Total offered to pay the Mikisew an undisclosed sum and agreed to a private "social contract" with the band, Mallon said. "In return, Mikisew withdrew its objection and constitutional challenge."
Mallon would not say how much money the company will give the Mikisew. Nor would he give details about the "social contract" the company signed with the band.
He said the concerns the Mikisew had, in addition to the environment, were the standard of living of their people, business opportunities, the education and training of their people, health concerns and their treaty rights.
"The agreement, in some fashion, assists the Mikisew to address most of these issues."
Both parties agreed the Mikisew can still express their concerns to the review panel.
The Oil Sands Environmental Coalition had also called for an adjournment, saying Total had failed to complete a proper assessment of the effects of all industrial development in the area.
The coalition's lawyer, Richard Secord, said he was not surprised the Mikisew reached an arrangement with Total, since the Athabasca Chipewyan and Fort McKay First Nations had already done so on the first day of the hearing.
Also, federal and provincial government lawyers had warned that the constitutional challenge could mean a long delay. If the panel had rendered a decision, it could have been taken up to the Court of Appeal for review and perhaps on to the Supreme Court of Canada, he said.
"I can't imagine they (Total) could tolerate this kind of uncertainty."
On the coalition's adjournment motion, Secord was pleased the panel ordered Total to provide by Friday certain evidence about the cumulative effects of development in the area. The hearing is scheduled to resume next week.
"We are pleased with the joint review panel's decision and we look forward to resuming the hearing next Tuesday," Total vice-president Gary Houston said in a statement.
Meanwhile, in Washington on Wednesday, First Nations leaders who oppose expansion of the oilsands say three senators who visited the Alberta last week got a distorted view -- one that excluded their concerns about potential health and environmental damage that more development will inflict.
"I think it's a very sad commentary that (we) have to leave our own homelands to impress upon other countries the significance of our challenges and the treatment we are receiving," said George Poitras, a former chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation at Fort Chipewyan.
Poitras was part of a First Nations delegation that concluded a three-day visit to the U.S. capital aimed at persuading the Obama administration to block a proposal by Calgarybased TransCanada Corp. to build a new pipeline that would carry oil from northern Alberta to the Gulf Coast.
The First Nations leaders said the trip was necessary because the governments of Canada and Alberta regularly exclude them from talks with U.S. officials over the impact of future oilsands development.