Elders from across the Northwest Territories weighed in on fracking as part of a model debate in the legislative assembly yesterday.
In the end, the parliamentarians — including Melody McLeod, wife of Premier Bob McLeod — voted unanimously in favour of a moratorium on the controversial practice.
"We don't say no to all development. We're not crazy. We want prosperity, but not at any cost," said Jean-Pierre Isoré, who put forward the motion.
- LISTEN | Click the link on the top left to hear Jean-Pierre Isoré argue against fracking in the N.W.T.
The elders parliament has no powers. It was created in 2010 as a way to allow elders to give voice to their issues and concerns, while showcasing the territory’s consensus style of government.
This year’s gathering took place just days after elected N.W.T. officials vowed to press ahead with fracking in the Sahtu region, despite contrary advice from the country’s top scientists.
Last week, the Council of Canadian Academies issued a report saying little is known about fracking’s long-term consequences.
Isoré, the elder representing the Frame Lake area of Yellowknife, agreed.
"The technical analysis shows that whatever you do today in terms of fracking is risky," he said.
Isoré said he learned to take risks in the military, "calculated risks, but there must be a direct proportion between the risk you take and the result you get, and we don't get that. We take all the risks and we get no result.
"At one point, we have to turn to our government and say, will you listen? Of course, they will come back and say, you don't know what you're talking about. We happen to be in an area of the country where the term 'elders' means something."
Not a single elder spoke in favour of fracking during the debate.
Be'sha Blondin, representing Yellowknife Centre, called for thorough environment assessments.
"We need to take a look at the best way the company have to make sure they work with the people,” Blondin said.
"Who's gonna protect the people? Who's gonna protect the animals, the water and the land?”
"Fracking requires a lot of water, and the water that you take is no longer usable," said Sam Gargan, a former MLA himself, representing Deh Cho.
Mary Beckett, representing Inuvik Boot Lake, said the territory — and future generations — can't afford to be stuck with more contaminated sites.
"The resource money can come to us later. We want to be sure that the land has a protector and somebody watching out for it.”
The motion said the moratorium would be in place until fracking’s “impacts on the North are better understood, and the government can manage this technology in a way that ensures the integrity of our environment and communities."
According to Isoré, the government should take the elders' vote to heart.
"Around this table, I'm calculating that we have 1200 years of wisdom. I think we've got something like over 200 children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We're representing a good percentage of the population just among us, and we say, 'No way. No way.'"
ConocoPhillips was the first company to frack in the N.W.T. They drilled and fracked two wells in the Sahtu region this winter. The company is now proposing to frack 10 more wells, while a proposal from Husky Energy to drill and frack four exploratory wells is now under review.