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Province ignoring treaty rights in oil and gas management, says Treaty 8

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Deirdre Tombs, Raven's Eye Writer, Fort Nelson







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Treaty 8 First Nations in Northern British Columbia are fed up with yet another offer to sit on an advisory board, only to have their treaty rights and concerns about the impact of the oil and gas industry on their lands ignored.

That was the sentiment expressed by Liz Logan, deputy chief of the Treaty 8 First Nations in B.C.

"Why go and sit down at a table where the town of Fort St. John is sitting or the local contracting company is sitting. It's pointless because they all have their own little agendas and here's the little old Indian going to sit down at the table and try and argue with these people where they're told to leave their rights at the door."

Her frustration comes after 50 years of oil and gas exploration in the northeastern part of the province. The Treaty 8 First Nations are upset about the environmental mess left on their lands from the oil and gas industry and they want to have a say in setting the environmental standards.

"Where are my grandchildren going to be able to exercise their treaty rights if they so choose to in the next few decades when there's no land out there now?" asked Logan.

For the last year-and-a-half, the Treaty 8 Tribal Association has been trying to work on a resource management agreement with the province, but without success. Logan said they are proposing to work collaboratively as partners with the province to manage the land and to participate in everything from exploration to reclamation.

"We have set up a proposal to them and right now they're basically coming back and telling us 'Well, you can go and sit on this advisory board and that advisory board.' Well, we have tried that and when we go to those advisory boards they basically tell you, 'You leave your rights at the door,'" said Logan.

The Treaty 8 First Nations argue that they would be ideal co-managers of the environmental resources because they know the land, unlike the province, which, they say, are doing a poor job.

Recently, the Saulteaux and West Moberly First Nations hired a biologist to study in their territories. In the small area that was examined, it was found that more than 75 per cent of the well sites had open sump pits or flare pits, Logan said. The study also found that the open pits are filled with toxic pools of water, or artificial mineral lakes that are dangerous to the many animals that drink the water.

"We hunt and eat those very animals and birds," said Logan in a recent press release. "The Alberta government requires companies to fence those sites, but no fences are required by B.C. regulators. This is an example of the mismanagement of the environment and the disastrous cumulative effects that the B.C. government, through its Oil and Gas Commission (OGC), need to take responsibility for."

The Treaty 8 Tribal Association took the study and presented it to the annual Oil and Gas Conference in September of last year. Since then, Logan said there has been a positive response from some oil and gas companies who are to sit down and work with them.

"But in terms of regulating, the government and the OGC, its agent, aren't doing anything now. Although they are sending us nice letters saying that 'Yes, were going to start looking at it now,' but it's a shame that we had to do something like this to publicly shame them into doing it," added Logan.

A letter from the OGC to the Treaty 8 Tribal Association, sent to us by Treaty 8, lists nine new measures that the commission is doing, including the requirement of industry operators to close off sump pits and the creation of Aboriginal liaison inspectors on a pilot project basis. Treaty 8 received the letter on April 20, and it was the first and only correspondence they have had since their presentation in September, said Logan, adding that they are in the process of responding to the letter.

But for Logan, the problem is really in the lack of consultation with First Nations from the beginning. She said the governmet needs to get the local First Nations involved right from the time they decide to sell the gas rights for a land area.

"Well, they do send us a little letter saying that they're going to sell the land, and when we give them the information they don't pass that information on to the gas company who ends up buying that gas right, and then ends up having to fight with us," explained Logan.

First Nations want to be involved.

"What we want is we want to be able to go out there and have a say in what goes on in the land. We want to participate, you know? We want to benefit from what's going on in the land."