CALGARY — Ahead of a sit-down meeting with Indigenous chiefs on Wednesday, the Alberta government is taking the unusual step of firing back at a First Nations chief who has been critical of how the province handled Indigenous consultations on Teck Resources Ltd.’s $20.6-billion Frontier oilsands mining project.
Earlier this week, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam sent off two letters, one to Johnathan Wilkinson, the federal Environment and Climate Change Minister, and another to other Indigenous groups — both criticizing Alberta’s consultation process.
The letter to Wilkinson outlined 13 areas where Adam believes the province needs to offer more support to the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, including water monitoring, protection of back country areas, and implementation of conservation plans.
Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.[/caption]
“Most important to refute is Chief Adam’s assertion that the AIOC replaces our duty to consult. Nothing can be further from the truth,” Wilson said.
Jess Sinclair, a spokesperson for Alberta Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon, added the Alberta government has engaged in “extensive discussions” with Chief Adam and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.
“This includes over a dozen meeting and conference calls, including elected representatives and senior department officials. Minister Nixon personally spoke with Chief Adam just a week ago,” Sinclair said.
Alberta wants to see the federal government approve the Frontier project, as it seeks a return of private sector investment, and the situation is giving Chief Adam the leverage to pressure the provincial government, according to an analyst.
“I think he (Adam) realizes this is coming at a very sensitive point,” said Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt of the letters criticizing Alberta over Frontier consultation.
Bratt said the federal government is facing pressure on all sides over approvals of the Frontier mine and said the decision was “very complex” given the economic, Indigenous and environmental issues raised.
Most important to refute is Chief Adam’s assertion that the AIOC replaces our duty to consult. Nothing can be further from the truth
Alberta’s Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson
Those issues are likely to come to a head Wednesday as Adam and Alberta government ministers will be in the same room together in Edmonton at an all chiefs meeting.
In an interview, Adam said he’s not sure what he’ll tell Alberta Premier Jason Kenney at the meeting Wednesday. “He’s definitely not listening to me,” Adam said of conversations with the province so far.
Adam called the provincial government’s offer to mitigate the effects of Vancouver-based Teck Resources Ltd.’s Frontier oilsands project “chump change.”
Alberta has not meaningfully consulted with his First Nation on the project, whereas the federal government has consulted on the project and the ACFN are close to signing an agreement with Ottawa, according to Adam.
The chief said he continues to support the Frontier oilsands project being built near his community, but is seeking funding for environmental monitoring programs in the area to continue an independent monitoring program.
“We’ve been coming up with all of this funding,” Adam said, adding that some of the funding for community monitoring was put in place when actor Leonardo DiCaprio visited the oilsands. Now, he said, the Athabasca Chipewyan is looking for public funding to continue with the monitoring.
“We were hoping that the Alberta government was going to climb on board with us,” Adam said.
Pushing back, Sinclair said the Alberta government is looking to expand the Kitaskino Nuwene Wildland Park and offer cooperative management of that park, expansion of the Ronald Lake Bison Herd, more water protection and monitoring, among other initiatives, following consultations with affected First Nations, including the Athabasca Chipewyan.
As Ottawa deliberates whether or not to approve the project, Sinclair said the provincial government will describe the accommodations it has offered to First Nations in detail.
“We will happily discuss those offers regarding ACFN with counterparts in Ottawa to clarify what has been done to date, as well as the productive arrangements with other First Nation groups in the region,” she said.