Proposed oilsands mine gets support from Fort McMurray Métis, four other Indigenous groups

Five Indigenous groups in the Fort McMurray region won't oppose the construction of the $20.6 billion oilsands mine north of the city.

The mine's operations would employ 2,500 people and produce 260,000 barrels of bitumen per day, company says

An oilsands facility is seen from a helicopter near Fort McMurray, Alta. (Jeff MacIntosh/Canadian Press)

Five Indigenous groups in the Fort McMurray region say they won't oppose the proposed construction of a $20.6-billion oilsands mine north of the city.

The McMurray Métis signed an agreement Tuesday with the mine proponent, Teck Resources, that promises jobs, contracts and environmentally sensitive development, according to leaders of Métis Local 1935.

The Fort McKay Métis, the Fort McKay First Nation and the Fort Chipewyan Métis have also signed similar agreements with Teck Resources. The Fort McMurray First Nation 468 has withdrawn its statement of concern.

The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, the Mikisew Cree First Nation and some environmental groups have said they still have concerns about the project's environmental impact.

McMurray Métis president Gail Gallupe said Teck Resources has done a year-long consultation with Métis hunters, trappers and berry pickers.

Gail Gallupe, McMurray Métis president, speaks Tuesday at the organization's open house and signing with Teck Resources. (David Thurton)

"Our biggest concern, because of our membership, is to make sure that our air isn't going to give people cancer, that our water isn't going to mutilate our fish," Gallupe said. "[Teck Resources] did a really intensive land-use survey with us."

Ensuring Indigenous people benefit

Teck's proposed Frontier mine, if approved, would be 110 kilometres north of Fort McMurray. It would create an anticipated 7,000 construction jobs, according to the Vancouver-based company. 

Though the McMurray Métis are based in the city, the group said the project would affect members who hunt, trap, fish and pick berries in the area around the proposed mine.

The mine's operations would employ 2,500 people and produce 260,000 barrels of bitumen per day over an expected 40-year life span, Teck Resources said. Operations are planned to begin in 2026.

The $20.6-billion mine is seen by some as a potential boost for Fort McMurray's ailing economy.

The project is expected to go before a Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency joint review panel hearing in the fall.

Teck Resources also owns a 20-per-cent stake in the Fort Hills oilsands mine.

The McMurrary Métis leadership said it supported the agreement on behalf of its 300 members on the condition that members and Métis businesses receive work and contracts.

"Generally they [oilsands companies] go to other big companies that do the whole project," McMurray Métis president Bill Loutitt said. "And unfortunately [usually] none of them are from our area or Aboriginal."

McMurray Métis vice-president Bill Loutitt, left, McMurray Métis president Gail Gallupe, centre, and Robin Johnstone, Teck Resource’s general manager for community and Indigenous affairs, sign a long-term sustainability agreement Tuesday in Fort McMurray. (David Thurton/ CBC)

Because the McMurray Métis is not a public organization it is not obligated to disclose how much money it would receive under the agreement with Teck Resources.

Chris Stannell, Teck's senior communications specialist, said in an email statement the company has been engaging with Indigenous communities and other stakeholders involved in the Frontier project for almost a decade.

The company's goal, Stannell said, is "to achieve formal participation agreements with local Indigenous communities."

 "We are committed to continuing to engage with Indigenous communities throughout the regulatory process and over the life of the project," Stannell said.

Follow David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitter or contact him via email.