Buffalo River Dene Nation angry about oil drilling program

A northern Saskatchewan First Nation says it wasn't properly consulted by the province on an oil drilling program.

Northern Saskatchewan First Nation says wasn't consulted by province

In 2013, people from the Buffalo River Dene Nation participated in a ceremony outside provincial court. (CBC)

A northern Saskatchewan First Nation says it wasn't properly consulted by the province on an oil drilling program.

The Buffalo River Dene Nation, located approximately 450 kilometres northwest of Prince Albert, is objecting to a company's plans to start a test drilling program in the area.

It says on March 8, the provincial government issued two licences to Iconoil to begin a test drilling program southwest of Dillon Lake.

Band members use the area for trapping, hunting, fishing and gathering, the First Nation says. According to the band, the area contains numerous cabins, traditional campgrounds, an extensive trail network and sacred areas.

Buffalo River said it had not been contacted by the provincial government first, breaking rules around the Crown's duty to consult before proceeding with actions that affect a First Nation's rights.

"We first heard about this drilling from the oil company, before we were told anything by the province," Chief Eileen Morrison said in a news release.

"I sent two letters to the province asking to meet to discuss our concerns about the impact of the drilling. The province told us they wanted to consult but they didn't even respond to my meeting requests."

In 2013, Buffalo Narrows took the province to court after it granted oil exploration leases to an Alberta company. The First Nation lost the case, as well as an appeal, when judges ruled that granting oil exploration leases was too early on in the process to trigger duty to consult.

"Saskatchewan told the court that we didn't need to worry because if they were ever asked to issue licences that would impact the surface of the land they would follow their consultation policy and meaningfully consult with us," former Chief Lance Byhette said.

"Now Saskatchewan has approved these licences without even responding to our request to meet.  Instead of fulfilling its promise to the courts to consult, Saskatchewan has totally disregarded and disrespected our nation and our rights."

The First Nation says the area around the drilling is used by band members for trapping, hunting and fishing. It's worried that oil development will interfere with Buffalo River's Treaty rights.