Fort McMurray region's Indigenous groups support oilsands mine, company tells review panel
Greenpeace accuses Teck of bullying Indigenous groups into supporting mine application
The company that hopes to build a massive oilsands project north of Fort McMurray says it has secured the support of all 14 Indigenous groups in the region.
On the first day of hearings before a joint-review panel, company officials said Teck Resources Ltd. has signed participation agreements with the Dene, Cree and Métis communities whose traditional territories intersect with the proposed mine.
The company's $20.6-billion Frontier oilsands mine project is undergoing public hearings in Fort McMurray before the Alberta Energy Regulator and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
The mine's lease areas, 110 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, overlap with traditional Indigenous lands and the territory of the threatened Ronald Lake bison herd.
But the land for the mine, a total of 292 square kilometres, or an area about half the size of Edmonton, would not be disturbed all at once.
At Tuesday's hearing, Teck officials announced the final Indigenous group from the region, the Mikisew Cree First Nation of Fort Chipewyan, had signed an agreement.
No company has ever obtained more such agreements before a public hearing to review the environmental and socio-economic impacts of an open-pit oilsands mine, said Kieron McFadyen, vice-president of energy for the Vancouver-based company.
Chief: 'I used to be anti-development'
Archie Waquan, chief of the Mikisew Cree, told CBC News the agreement marks a personal change for him.
"I think Teck has learned from Suncor and Syncrude and they want to do better," Waquan said. "I used to be anti-development. I have to say if I don't get on the train, I am going to be chasing the train."
Waquan would not divulge details about the agreement but said it would allow Indigenous groups to hold Teck to account if the company doesn't follow through on its promises to protect the environment.
Some of the region's Indigenous groups say they still have concerns about the project.
Waquan said his First Nation will call on the federal government to create a buffer zone around Wood Buffalo National Park and a protected area for the free-roaming Ronald Lake bison herd.
Teck officials told the panel the company will support adding those requirements to its application.
Bullying Indigenous groups?
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During cross-examination Tuesday, Indigenous groups in the Northwest Territories argued they weren't properly consulted about the project.
McFadyen said given that the Kátł'odeeche First Nation and the Northwest Territory Métis Nation are so far from the proposed mine, the company saw no need to sign agreements with those groups.
When the joint-review panel finishes its five-week public hearing it will submit a report to the federal minister of environment and climate change.
As of Monday, the panel had 200 working days before that report is due.
Greenpeace's Mike Hudema, whose group opposes the project, accused Teck of bullying Indigenous groups into side deals.
Hudema said many communities were forced to compromise because they know regulators have never rejected an oilsands application and will likely approve this one.
"That's not living up to our commitment to Indigenous peoples and Indigenous reconciliation," Hudema said. "When they feel forced into a decision they don't want to make."
Indigenous groups support Teck's Frontier oilsands mine
Here's a list of Indigenous groups that have signed agreements with Teck:
1. Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation
2. Mikisew Cree First Nation
3. Fort McKay First Nation
4. Fort Chipewyan Métis
5. Fort McKay Métis
6. Fort Mc Murray Métis 1935
7. Fort McMurray First Nation #468
8. Métis Nation of Alberta- Region One and it's member locals
9. Athabasca Landing Local # 2010
10. Buffalo Lake Local # 2002
11. Conklin Local # 193
12. Lac La Biche Local # 1909
13. Owl River Local # 1949
14. Willow Lake Local # 780