First Nations quit tar sands monitoring program

Tar Sands and River

Fort McMurray Today, May 2, 2014

The Fort McMurray First Nation No. 468, the last local First Nation participating in the Joint Oil Sands Monitoring program, has left.

In an emailed statement, the First Nation’s leadership confirmed that, as of Tuesday, they will no longer participate in the joint federal-provincial environmental program.

“The decision to withdraw from JOSM was difficult,” said Fort McMurray Chief Ron Kreutzer. “However, we will not participate in a project that does not include the people of Fort McMurray First Nation. We are frustrated.”

The band argues the program has ignored their perspectives and concerns regarding resource development in the oilsands.

“Why have First Nations at the JOSM table at all if Alberta and Canada are unwilling to include us in a meaningful way?” said Nicholle Louvelle, director of the First Nation’s Industry Relations Corporation.

JOSM, announced in 2012, is supposed to measure levels of pollution in air, land, water and wildlife, with all data collected released online. The federal-provincial program ends in 2015. The annual $50 million bill is paid for by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

“There was no plan within the JOSM, which was created to be a ‘world-class’ environmental monitoring program, to include the Fort McMurray No. 468 First Nation in monitoring and stewardship of its traditional territory,” read an emailed statement.

The First Nation’s complaints are the same reasons the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Mikisew Cree First Nation, the Fort McKay First Nation, Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation withdrew from the program in the last 12 months. The Fort McKay Metis have also withdrawn from the program.

Jason Malloney, a spokesperson with Alberta ESRD, said the provincial government has not yet been notified of the band’s departure and could not speak in detail regarding the departure. However, he says aboriginal groups need to have a presence in order for the program to be effective.

“I can’t tell you enough that aboriginal observation and participation is important in monitoring our oilsands,” he said. “We will continue to work with First Nations and Metis in JOSM. All aboriginal groups are invited to participate.”

In Wood Buffalo, the only remaining aboriginal groups staying in JOSM are Metis locals in Fort Chipewyan, Conklin and Fort McMurray.

“A lot of the issues we have had with JOSM are in the terms of reference for inclusion of First Nations within the program’s mandates,” said Eriel Deranger, a spokesperson for the ACFN, when her band left in January. “Our biggest concern is that under current direction, JOSM does not meaningfully include First Nations, our traditional knowledge, or our treaty rights into its mandate.”

Melody Lepine, who serves as a liaison between the Mikisew Cree First Nation and governments, echoed Deranger’s arguments when her band also left in January.

“We were very clear with what we wanted: that our traditional knowledge play a role, that we be involved in the decision making and design,” she said. “We could only sit a table for so long with so much other work to do in our region, so we left with ACFN.”

ACFN warned they were not happy with JOSM’s mandate when Fort McKay First Nation withdrew from the program, when Deranger warned her community had “the same concerns” in October.

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