Indigenous leaders support Smith Landing's fight against Teck Frontier project

Two Indigenous leaders in the southern N.W.T. are supporting the Smith's Landing First Nation in their fight against the Teck Frontier project — a controversial mine in northern Alberta. 

The federal environment minister has until the end of February to decide if project goes ahead

K'atl'odeeche First Nation Chief April Martel says she is in support of the Smith's Landing First Nation's efforts against the Teck Frontier project. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

The leaders of the K'atl'odeeche First Nation and the N.W.T Métis Nation are supporting the Smith's Landing First Nation in their fight against the Teck Frontier project — a controversial mine in northern Alberta.

The Teck Frontier project, located 110 km north of Fort McMurray, Alta., would pump out 260,000 barrels of oil everyday and create 7,000 jobs if approved.

Smith's Landing First Nation approached the Alberta government on at least four separate occasions to ask for consultation, according to Becky Kostka, the nation's land and resources manager. Last week, Chief Gerry Cheezie called on the territorial government to speak out against the project.

April Martel, chief of the K'atl'odeeche First Nation, first heard about the Teck Frontier project last December during a small meeting in Ottawa, where Cheezie described the potential impacts the mine could have on his land.

Gerry Cheezie has argued that contaminants from the Teck Frontier mine could enter the water supply at the Peace-Athabasca Delta and stream downward into the Slave River and into Great Slave Lake.  (CBC)

Cheezie argued that contaminants from the mine could enter the water supply at the Peace-Athabasca Delta and stream downward into the Slave River and into Great Slave Lake. 

Martel said she was shocked and wanted to support the work being done by Smith's Landing First Nation.

"I think every traditional area ... will be impact[ed]," said Martel. "It's like a ripple effect."

The traditional territory of the K'atl'odeeche First Nation includes a northwestern section of Wood Buffalo National Park and borders Great Slave Lake. 

The K'atl'odeeche First Nation requested to attend review panel sessions for the Teck Frontier project in 2018.

In their written submission, they that other nations are at more direct risk from the mining project, but still had concerns about water quality and quantity along with impacts to migratory birds.

"[Cheezie] is trying to fight for the better, [not just] for his First Nation, but all around," said Martel. 

"I believe that we should support him with what he's trying to do."

Métis nation: 'We're being ignored' 

Garry Bailey, president of the Northwest Territory Métis Nation, said he will continue to oppose the Teck Frontier project along with Smith's Landing First Nation.

"I fully support Chief Cheezie in all of his endeavours," Bailey told the CBC. "If he needs a letter of support from us, I would give him one tomorrow." 

It's definitely not good when we're being ignored.- Garry Bailey, president of the N.W.T Métis Nation

The Métis Nation represents members from their three regional councils in the South Slave: Hay River, Fort Resolution and Fort Smith.

In 2017, the Métis Nation requested that Teck Resources, the company behind the mine, create an Impact Benefit Agreement with them so nation members could be compensated if there were any adverse changes to their traditional way of life. 

Garry Bailey, president of the Northwest Territory Métis Nation, says his people's concerns are being ignored. (Senate of Canada/Jade Thériault)

Bailey said no compensation has been offered.

"It's definitely not good when we're being ignored," Bailey said. "We are the downstream communities that will definitely be affected." 

The Peace-Athabasca Delta and the Slave River extend through the Métis Nation's traditional territory, according to a 2018 written submission to the review panel. In the submission, it said the river is "critically important" to harvesting wildlife and are used as a means of transportation and a source of drinking water.

'We demand to be heard' 

The support from both nation leaders comes after Cheezie accused Alberta Premier Jason Kenney of not consulting every First Nation that will be adversely impacted by the Teck Frontier mine. 

"We may be the northernmost community in Alberta ... but we are already experiencing significant environmental change, and we cannot stay quiet any longer," a letter sent to Kenney's office reads. 

"We demand to be heard." 

The First Nation states in the letter that it requires meaningful consultation with the Alberta government before any decisions are made on the Teck Frontier project. The First Nation said it has not ruled out potential legal action against the province if the project goes ahead.

CBC contacted Kenney's office and the energy minister's office for comment. Neither responded by Thursday afternoon.