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Two First Nations Taking Ottawa To Court, Arguing They Weren’t Consulted Over Bill That Could Affect
January 8, 2013
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Ottawa is facing a new challenge from this country's aboriginal people.

Two First Nations from Alberta are taking the federal government to court, over its omnibus budget legislation.

The bands are the Mikisew Cree and the Frog Lake First Nation - two financially strong bands from territories rich in resources.

They say the legislation makes significant changes to the Fisheries Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act.

And they say the proposed changes would weaken Canada's environmental laws and adversely affect their land, water and way of life.

The chiefs of both bands went to Ottawa to present their application to the Federal Court today.

"The rest of Canada should be with us in support, and send a message to Stephen Harper and his government that what they're doing is wrong," said Chief Steve Courtoreille of the Mikisew Cree First Nation.

"This is not just a First Nation issue, it is an issue for all of Canada," he said. "It's not right what they're doing to this country. It's going to destroy this country if we allow them."

As of this afternoon, the government hadn't commented.

The bands are basing their case on past Supreme Court of Canada decisions.

Those rulings said the government has a constitutional duty to consult with aboriginal groups when it's making decisions that could affect their treaty rights.

And where appropriate, the government should accommodate those groups.

two-alberta-first-nations-taking-federal-government-to-court-arguing-they-weren't-consulted-over-legislation-that-could-affect-their-treaty-rights-feature1.jpg "They can't ram bills down our throats and expect us to roll over and accept it, because this is going to affect our future, affect the future of all of Canada."

"We depend on ... our livelihood, our way of life ... out in the land," Courtoreille said. "They're [the government] supposed to protect our land, waters, air. Now, it's giving industry open season to our territory."

In 2005, the Mikisew Cree won a Supreme Court case about the duty to consult. It had to do with a road through a part of Wood Buffalo Park in its territories near the oil sands.

But with this new omnibus legislation, which was passed late last year, the bands say they weren't consulted at all by the government.

"Our goals are clear: we are asking the courts to confirm that what the government did was not legal," Courtoreille said.

"There's no future if this legislation is enforced. It pretty much strips us of our treaty rights, then we'll have empty treaties that the government will no longer have to worry about."

With this legislation, the government has created a new act to replace the Navigable Waters Protection Act.

Under the old law, no one could block, alter or destroy any water deep enough to float a canoe without federal approval.

The new act is designed to do away with red tape created under the old law, by focusing on protecting Canada's busiest rivers, lakes and oceans.

Today, Robert Janes, the lawyer for the two bands, described how that would impact his clients.

two-alberta-first-nations-taking-federal-government-to-court-arguing-they-weren't-consulted-over-legislation-that-could-affect-their-treaty-rights-feature4.jpg "There are literally thousands of rivers and streams, small lakes - including Frog Lake - that are no longer protected," he said.

"If we look at the area around Mikisew... there are a vast number of navigable waters, many of which don't have formal English names, which are no longer protected."

"Many of these would be dug up, covered, or otherwise changed by oil sands development, other development," Janes said. "It's literally in the area of thousands of rivers and steams."

Janes also said both bands are near the oil sands, which is why they consider any changes to environmental law so important.

The Mikisew Cree First Nation owns and operates a number of companies in Fort McMurray, Edmonton and Toronto, including hotels and oil and gas servicing companies.

The Frog Lake First Nation has its own oil and gas drilling facilities.

On a side note, the Globe and Mail has an interesting piece about the audit of the Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario.

It's entitled 'Truth is more complex than Attawapiskat audit can tell us.' You can read it here.

Related stories

Independent Audit Raises Questions About How Attawapiskat First Nation Spent Millions Of Dollars In Federal Money

Prime Minister To Meet With First Nations Chiefs Next Week, As Attawapiskat Chief Marks 25th Day Of Hunger Strike

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