British Bank Backs Alberta First Nation’s Suit to Stop Oilsands Development

By Clint Buehler

LAC LA BICHE, AB – A British bank has come forward to back an Alberta First Nation’s suit against the Alberta and Canadian government to stop oilsands development on its traditional hunting and fishing grounds.

The Beaver Lake First Nation, near this town 240 kilometres northeast of Edmonton, recently welcomed two representatives from The Cooperative Group, a financial services company based in Manchester, England. They were accompanied by a BBC documentary crew and four British print journalists.

The two guests were drummed in, surrounded by hundreds of dancers, for the grand entry of the annual Beaver Lake Powwow.

The guests, Paul Monaghan, head of social goals and sustainability for the group, and Colin Baines, the group’s ethics adviser, later flew over the oilsands in two helicopters and toured the Cold Lake oilsands operations east of Lac La Biche.

The Beaver Lake suit alleges that 17,000 approved oilsands projects will make hunting and fishing impossible for its 920 current members and for future generations, and is based on the 1876 signing of Treaty 6, in which they were given reserve land and the right to hunt and fish in perpetuity on a much larger piece of territory, their traditional hunting territory.

In support of that suit, The Cooperative Group donated $90,000 last March and, during the visit, pledged another $100,000. A third cheque has been promised in August. The Beaver Lake support is part of the group’s “Toxic Fuels” campaign, launched in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund.

After discovering the suit on the internet when he started working on the campaign, Baines decided the Beaver Lake Cree Nation’s interests fit perfectly with those of The Cooperative Group. The company flew Beaver Lake Chief Al Lameman and council members to London this spring to rally in Trafalgar Square and meet British members of parliament.

As a result, 164 British MPs from all parties have signed on to an early-day motion to have oil companies disclose carbon liabilities in their financial statements.

For Jack Woodward, based in Victoria, who is an expert on Aboriginal land claims and has won similar cases in British Columbia and is the lead lawyer in the case, “this is the battle of my lifetime.” He and his colleagues were also drummed into powwow.

“The government made a solemn promise that cannot be broken,” he said. “The expansion of the tarsands breaks that promise.”

However, there are many in Lac La Biche and surrounding communities who are less than enthusiastic about the Beaver Lake action.

Oilsands development has brought a new level of prosperity to the hundreds of residents who are employed in that development and associated services, and to the businesses that serve them from grocers and hardware stores, to home builders and car and truck dealers, to recreational vehicle companies.

With that prosperity threatened by the Beaver Lake action, and while they may not have the moxy or resources to challenge it, you can be sure that they will enthusiastically support those who do—the provincial and federal governments and the multi-national oil companies who not only have the most to lose, but have the resources to hire the finest lawyers to defend their positions.