The Fort McKay First Nation of the Athabasca Wood Buffalo area has pulled out of a joint federal-provincial oilsands monitoring program because their concerns and input were being largely ignored. As of October 8th, the First Nation withdrew from the Joint Oil Sands Monitoring (JOSM) program because the First Nation’s leadership felt they were not valued in the watchdog’s consultation process. The First Nation was particularly interested in becoming involved in the technical details of the program, such as monitoring air quality and contaminants.
The MacKay First Nation is at the centre of the oil sands field north of Fort McMurray and is home to 700 Cree, Dene, and Metis. It is the only First Nation to drop out of the JOSM, which was announced in 2012. Daniel Stuckless, manager for environmental and regulatory affairs for the First Nation, told Fort McMurray Today that leaders were providing input into the engagement process but weren’t seeing any results from the information they were providing. “We were looking for full participation across the program,” said Stuckless. We wanted to be more utilized. Stuckless said the monitoring ideas leaders proposed were rejected. They felt they were there to provide traditional and cultural knowledge only.
The First Nation, however, understands the workings of the oil patch. Chief Jim Boucher has served as chief of Fort McKay for 23 of the last 27 years. In that time, he served as chairman of the board for the Fort McKay Group of Companies (FMGC), 100% owned by the First Nation and operating eight limited partnerships involved in the oil and gas industry.
Under Boucher’s leadership, the FMGC has grown into one of the most successful First Nations-owned business ventures in Canada with annual revenues in excess of $100 million. The First Nation is still willing to talk to the federal and provincial governments and are not opposed to rejoining the program if their concerns are met. Government representatives are meeting in early November with First Nations and industry stakeholders to address their concerns.
Fort McKay won a judgement allowing them to appeal a ruling by Alberta Energy Regulator (AER). In August, the AER approved a bid by Brion Energy Corp. to extract 50,000 barrels of bitumen per day using Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD) technology in the Moose Lake area known for its abundance of wildlife. Fort McKay wanted a 20 kilometre buffer zone to protect the area’s wildlife.
“We have always called this area Moose Lake because of its abundance of wildlife,” said councillor Raymond Powder. “Many of our families have traplines here, and our ancestors were married and buried here. We still consider this area home, and it has, until now, provided a safe and clean refuge for us to hunt and fish and escape the noise and pollution of the mines that surround our community.”