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Canada's First Nations Take Legal Stand on Oil Sands

The Supreme Court of Canada has taken a positive step for First Nations in a case that may have major legal implications for the development of oil sands, pipelines, and other projects in the province of Alberta. The court granted intervenor status to Duncan's First Nation and Horse Lake First Nation. This “standing” allows the nations to pursue their case before the court, where otherwise, they wouldn’t be allowed to appeal at all. The First Nations turned to the court because of their increasing frustration over the government’s refusal to act on earlier court decisions that direct governments to deal with Indigenous rights.

Duncan’s First Nation Chief Don Testawich stated, “Our traditional territory is being overrun and cut to pieces by oil sands, major pipelines, gas fields and major power projects. Development on this scale will is making our Treaty Rights meaningless and threatens our traditional way of life… The governments of Alberta and Canada sit back and refuse to address our concerns. We are intervening before the Supreme Court because it is abundantly clear that neither the environment nor First Nations can expect to receive a fair hearing within Alberta, where oil sands revenues are at stake. We need help now and help fast”.

This summer, the Supreme Court will hear conflicting arguments and views of First Nations, governments and industry in the Rio Tinto Alcan Inc. v. the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council case. The case will address the question of whether regulatory boards have a duty to decide whether Canada adequately consulted and accommodated First Nations’ concerns before granting approvals for resource development, including concerns about past infringements of Aboriginal and Treaty rights.

The two nations want the Court to direct governments and regulators to fully and effectively address the consultation rights of First Nations in the regulatory processes for the major oil sands and tar sands infrastructure projects being proposed by Royal Dutch Shell, Trans Canada Pipelines, Enbridge, Bruce Nuclear Power and other corporations.

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