Native Groups Join To Save Water Supply

Native Groups Join To Save Water Supply

By Jeffrey Jones
Thu Sep 7, 6:14 PM ET

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Booming oil and gas development in Western and Northern Canada has prompted native groups to build a united front to better protect the vast region's water resources, aboriginal leaders said on Thursday.

About 200 First Nations representatives from Alberta, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories gathered in Fort Simpson, N.W.T., this week for a three-day conference on how to stem worsening water quality and diminishing supplies as a result of industrial development.

It was hosted by Deh Cho First Nation Grand Chief Herb Norwegian, who is holding out against the C$7.5 billion ($6.8 billion) Mackenzie Valley pipeline that would cross his people's land.

As many as 60 aboriginal groups live on a huge watershed that encompasses much of the oil- and gas-rich provinces of Alberta and British Columbia and the Northwest Territories, Norwegian told Reuters by telephone. The resource is considered sacred in native cultures.

"The idea here is that this becomes a catalyst so people can actually start focusing on this really serious issue of water," he said.

"In Canada we have an abundance and we take it for granted, but I think we need to be very serious about what we have at our doorsteps. First Nations have been using it for thousands of years and now we want to have something done about the problems that are coming our direction."

Poor water quality on native reserves across Canada has made international headlines in recent years. In 2005, 1,200 people from the Kashechewan Cree reserve in northern Ontario were evacuated due to contaminated water.

A top concern is water availability in northeastern Alberta, where surging oil prices have sparked an oil sands investment boom valued at more than C$100 billion. The industry uses huge volumes of water to extract the tar-like bitumen.

The level of the Athabasca River has dropped and residents have been told to avoid drinking the water or eating the fish, said Jean L'hommecourt of the Fort McKay First Nation, which is located in the midst of most of the developments.

"I'm not sure about what can be done to replenish the water again, because that's something that probably can't be fixed unless all the industry stops taking water from the Athabasca River to produce their oil," L'hommecourt said.

The Athabasca flows more than 1,500 km (935 miles) from the Columbia Icefield in the Rocky Mountains to Lake Athabasca in northeastern Alberta. Those waters then flow north more than another 2,000 km (1,200 miles) via the Slave and Mackenzie rivers to the Arctic Ocean.

The leaders said they aim to hold another water conference next year, and invite industry and government representatives to what could become a regular round-table session.

However, Pat Marcel, an elder and tribal chairman from Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, said he believed governments with visions of rich royalty and tax revenues have ceded at least some of their protection powers to industry, forcing native groups to forge their own coalition.

"First Nations are seeking help by joining with the Deh Cho territories and (British Columbia native groups). I think we can have a very successful caucus here," Marcel said.

Water supply is already a major issue in northeastern British Columbia, site of a deep natural gas and coal development rush, as well as hydroelectric dams, said Chief Roland Wilson of the West Moberly First Nation.

Much of the activity is geared for export to satisfy the immense energy demand of the United States.

"It's so California can run their air conditioners 24 hours a day down there and keep them all nice and cozy, while the First Nations people up here have to suffer the impacts," he said.
Corporate greed up close and personal.

See my previous entry on this here in our archives entitled: Oil Sands Development Not Sustainable.

It would appear that the Albertan government cares more for profit than its native inhabitants.

Also see: Deh Cho First Nations