The Dene Nation said it would bring together northern leaders for a “water summit” as Teck Resources withdrew its proposal to construct a giant oilsands mine in Alberta.
A demonstration against the now-withdrawn Frontier mine project, initially scheduled to take place outside the NWT legislature on Tuesday, has been cancelled.
Teck said on Sunday it would no longer pursue the Frontier project, said to be worth billions of dollars in revenue and thousands of jobs. The decision to withdraw the project came just days before Ottawa was due to either approve or reject it.
Amid concerns about the economic viability of the project, its environmental impact, and the likelihood of protests should it be approved, Teck president Don Lindsay said: “Withdrawing from the process will allow Canadians to shift to a larger and more positive discussion about the path forward.”
Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya last week warned the Frontier project could become “our Wet’suwet’en” in the Northwest Territories if it went ahead.
First Nations near the NWT-Alberta border had long complained of their exclusion from talks and Frontier’s anticipated impacts on water, wetlands, forests, and wildlife.
The Smith’s Landing First Nation, for example, warned its people would receive “100 percent of the impacts and absolutely none of the benefits.”
Chief Gerry Cheezie of Smith’s Landing was to have led Tuesday’s planned demonstration. On Monday, the Dene Nation confirmed that protest would now not go ahead.
“However, despite the cancellation, water management and protection are ongoing concerns for Indigenous people,” read a statement from the Dene Nation.
“Many other oilsands expansion projects are being considered … with major downstream impacts which would affect the traditional ways of life of Dene people.”
In the same news release, Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya referred to a transboundary water agreement between Alberta and the Northwest Territories as “our shield at the border.”
Signed in 2015, the agreement – between the governments of the NWT and Alberta – is designed to govern what happens to water entering the territory from Alberta.
The NWT government says the agreement was made to “provide certainty [and] better ensure waters flowing into the NWT remain substantially unaltered in quality, quantity, and rate of flow.”
Yakeleya said the Dene Nation will now host what he called the “first northern leaders’ water summit” in October this year to address concerns about what happens to water before it enters the territory.
Similar water summits already take place at national and international level. The Canadian Water Summit, for example, is scheduled for June 10-12 in Ottawa.
“Northern governments have to work together to keep that shield strong and improve it,” Yakeleya said.
“This is no time to get complacent.”