Sask. First Nation wants Husky Energy to step up oil spill response

The Chief of James Smith Cree Nation, located about 60 kilometres east of Prince Albert, Sask., said oil from the July 21 spill into the North Saskatchewan River has ended up in front of the First Nation on the Saskatchewan River.
This picture was taken in Prince Albert, Sask., following a spill of oil into the North Saskatchewan River. A First Nations community east of Prince Albert is concerned about the response to the spill in their area. (Matthew Garand/CBC)

The chief of a Saskatchewan First Nation says Husky Energy needs to step up and take responsibility for oil in the river near the community.

The James Smith Cree Nation is located about 60 kilometres east of Prince Albert, Sask., and after the Husky Energy oil spill on July 21, the reserve's chief said oil has flowed into the Saskatchewan River to the shores of his community. However, the reserve is still waiting for the oil company to acknowledge the oil in the river belongs to them.

On Thursday Husky officials met with the James Smith Cree Nation and questioned whether the oil spotted in the river even belonged to Husky.

"I was asked 'whose oil is this?' Well there's only one oil spill in the river, so when you take that into consideration, the fingerprints of that and then you go upstream on the North Saskatchewan River it will take you right to Husky oil," Cree Nation Chief Wally Burns said.

The Cree Nation is located on the Saskatchewan River, east of the converging point where the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers meet.

A spokesperson for Husky Energy said they met with the First Nations to discuss the community's concerns and an open dialogue continues.

First Nation doing its own water testing

In the meantime, the James Smith Cree Nation signed a memorandum of understanding with Robix Environmental Technologies to licence water technology and other services including water quality monitoring and testing as it relates to oil spill emergency.

"We wanted our own data to prove to the government that there are hydrocarbons in the water," Burns said. "Husky Energy, they can go ahead and send in their water technicians but we'd rather do this on our own and get our own assessment done."

'Our right to practice our way of life, such as hunting on the Saskatchewan River, fishing on the Saskatchewan River ... all of these are affected by this disaster.- Chief Wally Burns

A sore spot for Burns is Husky's response in the wake of the pipeline oil spill. He questions why Husky Energy focused its cleanup efforts in Prince Albert, rather than following the oil downstream and helping out other affected communities like his.

Burns added his First Nation's quality of life has been severely impacted by oil in the river and it is impacting their way of life.

"Our right to practice our way of life, such as hunting on the Saskatchewan River for big game and waterfowl, fishing on the Saskatchewan River, gathering of medicines and roots, recreational activities such as swimming, hiking along the Saskatchewan River … all of these are affected by this disaster," Burns said. "We must clean up this mess that was created by Husky Energy."

Burns said before the spill the river used to be filled with wildlife, from butterflies to crayfish. But now, there's virtually no life on the water.

While the first water tests have been collected, Burns said he isn't optimistic the results will come back in their favour.

"The tests are not coming back clean," Burns said.

With files from Radio-Canada's Anouk Lebel