In a modern-day proverbial David-versus-Goliath victory, tiny Beaver Lake Cree Nation has persevered in its attempt to sue both the Alberta and Canadian governments for damages stemming from 15 years of oil sands development that it was never consulted on.
The Court of the Queen’s Bench has upheld the First Nation’s 2008 lawsuit despite the provincial and federal governments’ attempts to throw it out amid claims that it is frivolous. In her decision Justice Beverley Browne said that the case is worth pursuing because it raises issues and questions about aboriginal consultation overall that need to be addressed.
Winning the case would not entail revoking the 19,000 development permits that have been issued during that time, Browne said. Rather, it would allow both parties to “sit down and negotiate the application of the duty to consult and how ongoing aboriginal and treaty rights will be protected and managed," the decision said. Browne implied that the court might even play a mediatory role.
"We have always been ready to talk, and we are pleased that the Court may even go so far as to supervise those talks," Beaver Lake Chief Henry Gladue said in a statement. "The treaty is a sacred document for my people and we are very happy that the courts are prepared to back us up to ensure treaty rights are protected.”
The 900-population Cree First Nation claims in its lawsuit that it has lost its treaty-guaranteed ability to hunt, trap and fish on its traditional lands as a result of development in the oil sands region of Alberta. The First Nation is a signatory of Treaty 6.
The crude extracted from this development, which is carved out of the boreal forest, is sold mainly to the U.S. It would also be the source for oil sent to Asia through the contested Northern Gateway pipeline, as well as to the Gulf of Mexico should the Keystone XL pipeline ever get approved.
Here, Donald and Christine Twin describe the effects on their way of life, their health and their land. The Beaver Lake Cree Nation's website has more info on their ongoing struggle to survive.