Environment

‘Urgency still there’ for water summit, Dene national chief says


The Dene Nation continues to “work very diligently” on plans for a water summit in the territory, according to national chief Norman Yakeleya.

In February, the Dene Nation had announced its intention to hold a summit following protests against a proposed oilsands mine project in Alberta.

Several Dene communities downstream from the Teck Frontier project – including the Smith’s Landing First Nation, near Fort Smith – had expressed concern about what the project, since abandoned, could mean for their waters and lands.

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The summit would allow northern leaders to come together and address a range of concerns regarding water in territory.

Though Teck Resources, the company responsible for the project, has withdrawn its proposal, the Dene Nation issued a statement of its intention to move ahead with the summit regardless.

The event will take place in Fort Smith, but no further details have been confirmed.  

During a news conference on Thursday, Dene National Chief Yakeleya told Cabin Radio the Dene Nation is carefully monitoring the Covid-19 situation and looking at “all options.”

“It may be virtual, [but] ideally we’d like to have people within a safe distance and have some discussion,” he said. “We’re looking forward to going to Fort Smith at some time where we feel all safe.”

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According to Yakeleya, Teck Resources was just one of many bids for mining in the area.

“We may have one [withdrawal], but there are others lining up to ensure that their applications can be heard. We know there’s more coming,” he said.

With this in mind, water continues to be a primary concern of the Dene Nation, Yakeleya said.

“That urgency is still there,” he said.

“Water is very, very, very key to life, especially to the Dene people – even to the people in the surrounding communities of Great Slave Lake and the Mackenzie River. We want to ensure with confidence that all measures are taken to ensure the quality of water and there’s no detrimental effect to water in the long term.”

Yakeleya also addressed Wednesday’s announcement that water-quality monitoring had resumed at some sites in northern Alberta and the NWT.

Monitoring had been suspended earlier this year “in an effort to prioritize the health and safety” of the Environment and Climate Change Canada workforce.

Yakeleya said the Dene Nation and nearby communities hadn’t been made aware that the services had been halted.

He said he was “appalled” at the federal government, saying they had an obligation to inform people downstream of such a suspension.

“It raises the critical point of assuring the people in the Northwest Territories that our water is going to be safe for future generations,” Yakeleya said.

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