Thank you for the opportunity.
My name is Albert Mercredi. I'm a chief at the Fond du Lac First Nation. I'm one of the community members downstream from the tar sands development.
To make references in my presentation, I have had the organizers put up the mapping system of where we come from in the Athabasca region. Also, the Athabasca land use vision planning process will be displayed for reference.
With that, good afternoon to the elected representatives, the elders, members, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you. I am honoured to be here representing my community, the Denesuline people, and to have this opportunity to speak to you this day and address these important issues.
I will speak from the perspective of my people, the Denesuline of the Athabasca, both north and south of the 60th region. In Dene, we call the land Dene Nene. It's “the land”, as it's called in the English version.
We note from the agenda that the topic of sustaining the environment and the economic wealth of the western economies is of significant importance. The importance to our people is that the land and the waters of the Athabasca Dene have sustained our people for thousands of years, and our Dene people have sustained the lands and the waters.
Our elders teach us, and we believe, that if we take care of the lands and the waters, they will take care of us. For these reasons, as Dene people we believe we are already wealthy if we possess clean air, clean water, and clean land within which we hunt and trap and gather for a livelihood. Our wealth is of secondary importance.
Today, our lands and waters and resources are being demanded for use by international and national resource companies. They are taking over the land faster than we have ever experienced before. This has alarmed our people, along with the reports of the degradation of both our environment and the Dene people.
The energy industry has encroached greatly upon the lands and the waters, in most cases without consultation or regard for our people; however, our greatest threat is the encroachment on our territory of the oil and gas industry and activities in the Fort McMurray area on the Alberta side. The Oilsands Quest area on the Saskatchewan side recently has publicized its thousands of kilometres of new cut lines and roads in our territory, with the intention of production within one to two years.
Our Athabasca Dene people are very alarmed by the recent reports from Alberta disclosing the toxic nature of the Athabasca tar sands being developed in the Fort McMurray area, which are a concern on an international scale. Our Dene people are alarmed at the published suffering of our friends and relatives of the Fort Chip Denesuline First Nation—the highest incidence of deaths in the Denesuline community—from cancer and disease that is suspected to be linked from the poisons flowing into our water from the Fort McMurray tar sands production.
Our Dene people are alarmed that the waters flowing north in the Athabasca River are bringing these poisons into our Lake Athabasca and to our doorstep on the Saskatchewan side. In addition, the reports from Alberta and Saskatchewan disclose increasing levels of acid rain linked to the Fort McMurray tar sands. Our Dene people are experiencing the harmful effects of these poisonous projects on the fish and the wildlife, which we rely upon for sustenance and which contribute to our Denesuline economy.
Both the Fort McMurray tar sands and the Saskatchewan Oilsands Quest projects have proceeded without any consultation or involvement of the Athabasca Denesuline people. A letter from one company to me discloses that they believe they have no obligation to consult with our people and that the duty and obligation rests exclusively with the provinces.
Our Denesuline elders have spoken for years and warned us of the destruction of the environment if we do not take care of the lands, the waters, and wildlife, and if we give up our responsibility as stewards of the homeland. At a time when the world and the nation of Canada are in a crisis and crave clean sources of energy, the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan and all western provinces must show leadership to keep our lands and waters pristine. The Province of Alberta needs to focus on cleaning up their environmental mess, and our Province of Saskatchewan should be concerned about the harm and destruction of promoting and allowing similar projects to proceed.
We are aware that the Athabasca region is one of the most active energy resource exploration and resource extraction regions in the world because of the demand for the energy formed from the hydrocarbons and from uranium. The activities involved in the oil and gas and nuclear energy industries are threatening the traditional livelihood, the culture, and the values of my people. Many times our people are surprised while out on the land to come upon exploration camps that have permission from the provinces to go onto our Denesuline lands and waters without notice or consultation, and without the consent of our first nation government.
Our people for many years have not been provided with the opportunities they should have to develop themselves, their education, their training, and their own businesses, and to take advantage of the opportunities that the energy industry presents. These outside companies, with their Canadian workers, have benefited to a far greater extent than our people over the years. We do recognize that the energy industry has benefited our people to some extent through employment, but the energy companies and the provincial economies have benefited themselves far more in comparison.
As a result, our first nations have decided to take a proactive and a two-part approach to preserving the Athabasca Denesuline interests now and for the future generations.
First, we have created our own regional development corporation to attempt to control development in ways that benefit the Athabasca Dene people and that, above all, allow our leadership to have some involvement from an industrial perspective in how the lands could be developed. This has allowed us to benefit from some opportunities, including education and training, employment, and business development.
Second, we are taking a proactive approach to enforcing our rights and demanding that both the provinces and the energy companies follow a process that includes both providing Denesuline leadership with information on company exploration, which involves meeting as often as necessary to consult with our first nations government before any permits are granted.
Third, we have developed an Athabasca land use plan, which has been approved by all Athabasca Denesuline chiefs and their neighbouring Dene communities. It is displayed in the room here. The Athabasca land use plan has also been ignored by the provinces, resulting in the advantages of the territory going to outsiders for far too long.
Fourth, we have developed a protocol to establish a framework for the crown's duty to consult and accommodate, which includes a resource development project review and approval process. The protocol is in direct response to the lack of formal process developed to date, which appears to reflect the lack of political will on the part of Canada and the provinces to take the leadership role. In the experience of the Athabascan Denesuline, the crown seems to be content to delegate the responsibility and duty to consult to the energy industry. This is unacceptable, and the Athabascan Denesuline are experiencing the impacts of the crown policy.
Our Athabascan Denesuline leadership must take an active role to ensure that the potential for harmful and destructive projects cannot take place in a provincial environment that ignores and does not involve our Athabascan Denesuline people through a formal process of consultation and accommodation.
For these reasons, our Athabascan Denesuline people must plan the enforcement of our rights, interests, and title against Canada, the provinces, and those corporate developments that fail to consult with us. We are prepared to act as necessary to be involved in negotiating the conditions and addressing the potential impacts under which we would allow access to our lands and waters. The duty to consult must extend and be discharged to our Athabasca communities, and their interests must be accommodated.
The Athabasca can no longer wait. We must take this opportunity to make our stand, as we have everything to lose. To our Denesuline people, this is not an option for us.
We come from an Athabasca perspective. The region I represent, with over 67 years of mining in the area, includes three abandoned mine sites and 39 satellite exploration sites that to this day have never been cleaned up. We come from a region that is wealthy in uranium and is still growing strong in the near future, and now Oilsands Quest is taking part.
Thank you for this opportunity, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much.