Smith’s Landing First Nation told Alberta Premier Jason Kenney it would vehemently oppose the Teck Resources Frontier oilsands mine project.
In a letter, the First Nation – adjacent to Fort Smith at the southern border of the NWT – said recent statements by Kenney describing First Nations and Métis support for the project were “blatantly false and misleading.”
Teck’s Frontier project says it has concluded consultation and signed 14 agreements with “Indigenous groups potentially affected by the project.”
Though directly downstream from the project, Smith’s Landing was deemed by both the Alberta government and Teck to be too far away – 240 km – to be consulted. The First Nation said it had repeatedly requested inclusion.
“The Alberta government’s actions have flown in the face of the Government of Canada’s acknowledgement that Smith’s Landing First Nation is an Aboriginal group potentially affected by the project,” wrote Chief Gerry Cheezie, who said communities farther away and upstream of the project were consulted.
In a statement to Cabin Radio, Teck said it had in fact engaged the community.
“We have engaged extensively with Indigenous communities on the Frontier project for over a decade, including Smith’s Landing, and we are committed to continuing that engagement throughout the project’s life,” said a Chris Stannell, a public relations officer, by email.
“The federal-provincial joint review panel, in their final report, concluded that the project ‘will not result in incremental effects to Smith’s Landing’s exercise of asserted Aboriginal and Indigenous rights,'” Stannell continued.
However, Smith’s Landing says it is already experiencing “significant adverse cumulative impacts” from developments like mines and dams south of Wood Buffalo National Park, and feels approval of Teck’s project may worsen conditions.
“[The project] is squarely within Smith’s Landing First Nation territory,” Cheezie’s letter states. “The project will adversely impact our ability to meaningfully exercise our constitutionally protected Treaty rights, including not only the right to hunt, trap, fish, and practice our Dene Ch’anié (the path we walk, our traditional code of conduct), but the ability to navigate and access preferred harvesting areas and resources within our territory.
“Members of Smith’s Landing First Nation hold a strong connection to the territory and continue to actively use the land, water, and resources to sustain our cultural way of life.
“Should this project be approved, Smith’s Landing First Nation will receive 100 percent of the impacts and absolutely none of the benefits.”
Becky Kostka, Smith’s Landing’s land and resources manager, echoed Cheezie in a news release that followed the letter.
“The Nation has been fighting for recognition in this process since they found out about it in 2018. The fact that it took an outside source to inform the chief and council about this project, rather than coming directly from the Crown, is outrageous,” said Kostka.
“The lack of consultation or attempt to gain free, prior, informed consent is a clear example of the continued environmental racism that permeates this so-called consultation process,” she wrote, noting the First Nation believes commitments to Treaty 8, and implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, have been broken.
A final decision on the Teck project’s fate is expected from the federal government by the end of the month.
The massive oilsands project was deemed “in the public interest” by a review panel in August, despite what were termed inevitable and “significant adverse effects” on the environment and Indigenous peoples.
Teck is projecting the creation of 7,000 jobs during the mine’s construction phase and another 2,500 operational jobs over the mine’s anticipated 41-year life.
The mine would produce 260,000 barrels of oil a day, Teck says, which could result in up to $70 billion in income for various levels of government. Critics say those projected economic benefits are based on oil prices “not seen in years.”
Last week, the company announced a new goal to become “carbon neutral across all operations and activities by 2050,” though federal environment minister Jonathan Wilkinson told The Globe and Mail he felt the ambition lacked detail as he weighed whether it would factor into Ottawa’s decision-making process.
The Alberta Government did not respond to a request for comment.