'A slap in the face': Husky cutting back supports for First Nations following oil spill

First Nations leaders in Saskatchewan are angry over a letter they received from Husky Energy that they believe means the company won't be providing any more support for an oil spill.

James Smith Cree Nation receives letter updating compensation changes

Oil from the Husky Energy spill near the Battlefords reached the James Smith Cree Nation more than 200 kilometres away.

First Nations leaders in Saskatchewan are angry over a letter they received from Husky Energy that they believe means the company won't be providing any more support for an oil spill.

In the letter obtained by CBC News, Husky's vice-president of aboriginal and community relations Dave Lawrence tells First Nations that cleanup from the July oil spill near the Battlefords is now done, and they will no longer be entitled to compensation for any meetings held after Sept. 1.

I think [Husky officials] are looking for a way out.- Wallace Burns, James Smith Cree Nation chief

"That letter is just a slap in the face. It's total disrespect," said James Smith Cree Nation Chief Wallace Burns.

The timing of the letter also upsets Burns. The letter is dated Nov. 9, but he just received it on Thursday. To make matters worse, Husky informs First Nations they stopped being eligible for compensation Sept. 1, he said.

The James Smith Cree Nation includes 22 kilometres of North Saskatchewan River shoreline downstream from the site of the July 21 spill.

Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron is equally dismayed.

"How does that make any sense?" he said of Husky's decision. "They have to compensate the First Nations bands that are still doing the [cleanup] work."

First Nations may be eligible for further "assessment" compensation, but they would need to apply to the Saskatchewan First Nations Resource Centre of Excellence rather than Husky directly.

Although the spill occurred more than 200 kilometres to the west near the Battlefords, James Smith was one of many affected communities.

The First Nation has received some compensation from Husky, but Burns said the damage is extensive and cleanup is not nearly complete.

"I think [Husky officials] are looking for a way out," Burns said.

Burns said he's not aware of similar letters being sent to the cities of North Battleford and Prince Albert, where cleanup efforts also continue. He wonders why First Nations communities appear to be treated differently.

Next steps

Burns said First Nations are planning their next course of action. They'll press the federal and provincial governments to force Husky to compensate them.

It could also mean more direct action, Burns said.

He suggested inviting some of the pipeline protesters gathered at Standing Rock, N.D., to see what's happening in Saskatchewan. A similar action here might be warranted, he said.

Chiefs unimpressed by report

Aside from the letter, Burns and Cameron are also angry about Husky's public report on the spill. Husky attributed the spill of more than 200,000 litres of oil to ground movement.

Burns, Cameron and other critics say the report fails to answer a host of key questions.

"I've got news for you, Husky: The earth's going to continue to move every day," Cameron said. "That's not an excuse."

CBC requested an interview with Husky. Company spokesman Mel Duvall responded Friday afternoon by email. He said the company wants to continue working with all communities, including First Nations.

He added that monitoring efforts will continue and the company will reassess the situation in the spring.

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story did not include information about the "assessment" compensation that must be applied for through the Saskatchewan First Nations Resource Centre of Excellence.
    Nov 26, 2016 7:40 PM CT