Can ATK Stop the Alberta Oil Sands?


In late August, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton approved piping in oil from Canada’s Alberta oil sands – dubbed “the most destructive project on Earth” by the Environmental Defense. While Canadian Environment Minister Jim Prentice guaranteed U.S. consumers the crude oil extracted from Canada’s oil sands is “a safe, stable secure supply of energy,” reports the Miller-McCune, his reassurances fall on deaf ears in the Cree, Chipewyan and Metis Nations.

The American Indian people living downstream from the Alberta oil production have watched the progression of damaging effects to their environment over the past quarter century: populations of muskrat, lake fish and ducks plummeting, and their own cancer rates soaring. ??Now the United States’ top foreign source for oil, Alberta’s oil sands makes the province wealthy while stripping hundreds of square miles of forest wilderness and crippling the First Nations’ homeland and people.

Canada’s lead federal agency for environmental oversight is now looking to Aboriginal peoples for their unique knowledge about the environment. “The aboriginal traditional knowledge (ATK) is increasingly recognized as an important part of project planning, resource management, and environmental assessment,” asserts the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency on its website. ??Harsh critics of ATK like Frances Widdowson, a professor at Calgary’s Mount Royal College, calls it a collection of “simplistic hypotheses, vague and unsubstantiated opinions and unsystematic data,” also calling it a “threat to environmental assessment wherever it is applied.”

Regardless of such opinions, agency attention to indigenous knowledge in development plans is a growing trend. That said, some fear the talk surrounding ATK is simply a matter of governmental and agency lip service. “Government does what it is going to do anyway,” says Jumbo Fraser, who has participated in traditional-knowledge studies conducted by Alberta’s Cumulative Effects Management Association. “I guess they figure if they’re talking about [traditional knowledge], they’re using. They’re not,” he told Miller-McCune.