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First Nation lauds plan to protect traditional land use in oilsands management plan

The Alberta government says it has completed a plan to manage oilsands development in an area near the Fort McKay First Nation that supports traditional land uses and maintains its ecological integrity.

'We are very ecstatic that the plan is what we wanted' says Chief Mel Grandjamb

The Alberta government says it has completed a plan to manage oilsands development in an area near the Fort McKay First Nation that supports traditional land uses and maintains its ecological integrity. (Fort McKay First Nation)

The Alberta government says it has completed a plan to manage oilsands development in an area near the Fort McKay First Nation that supports traditional land uses and maintains its ecological integrity.

The announcement follows an Alberta Court of Appeal ruling last April, which overturned regulatory approvals for a $440-million oilsands project that would have encroached on land the First Nation considers sacred.

The court ruled that the Alberta Energy Regulator violated the honour of the Crown when it approved the proposal even though the development infringed on an agreement between the province and the First Nation.

Chief Mel Grandjamb says the Moose Lake Access Management Plan means band members will have a place to practise treaty rights and live in a traditional manner.

Fort McKay, north of Fort McMurray, is surrounded on three sides by oilsands development. Seventy per cent of the band's traditional territory is taken up by mines.

'A joyous celebration'

Grandjamb says the plan calls for oilsands processing facilities to be outside the Moose Lake area and recognizes the negative effects such facilities would have on the First Nation's ability to practise traditional land uses essential to the preservation of Cree and Dene cultures.

"We are very ecstatic that the plan is what we wanted," Grandjamb said in a phone interview Tuesday. "We are going to have a joyous celebration. People have been breaking down in tears."

Fort McKay First Nation Chief Mel Grandjamb poses in this undated handout photo. Grandjamb says the Moose Lake Access Management Plan means band members will have a place to practise treaty rights and live in a traditional manner. (Fort McKay First Nation, Crystal Mercredi/The Canadian Press)

Alberta Environment Minister Jason Nixon said the plan supports traditional First Nation land uses with well-managed resource development.

The plan prohibits major infrastructure, including airfields, landfills, permanent work camps and central processing facilities within the 10-kilometre zone. However, the plan does allow for 15 per cent of the land to be developed.

"The resources within that 10 kilometre-zone could still be developed, while following the land use plan that we're putting in place, respecting disturbance limits and working with the community to help monitor the environment," Nixon said. 

"I want to stress this is a pro resource-development plan."

The plan also includes enhanced environmental monitoring for air, land, water and biodiversity within the planning area and no new industrial mining activity within the zone.

This map shows the area known as Moose Lake; the coloured areas near Fort McKay show where oilsands developments are located. (Fort McKay First Nation)

In 2001, the band began talks with the province to preserve Moose Lake and a 10-kilometre buffer zone around it. Former Alberta premier Jim Prentice signed a letter of intent with the band in 2015 and three years later Fort McKay thought it had a deal, although it was never ratified.

That year, the Alberta Energy Regulator approved Prosper Petroleum's 10,000-barrel-a-day, steam-assisted bitumen extraction project that would have come within two kilometres of the lakeshore.

Last year, the Appeal Court instructed the regulator to reconsider the project.

Prosper CEO Brad Gardiner said the court ruling reflected a failure of the regulatory framework for the energy industry and a failure of the Crown to address the concerns of Fort McKay First Nation.

Gardiner was not immediately available for comment on the government's Tuesday announcement.

In July, the Alberta Energy Regulator said it would reopen the public hearing of Prosper Petroleum's proposal.

A spokesperson for the regulator said a date for the hearing has not been set.

An aerial view of Fort McKay, Alta., Monday, Sept. 19, 2011. The Alberta government has released a draft plan for managing a contentious area that holds both oilsands resources and culturally significant Indigenous lands. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

With files from Emily Senger

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