Don’t eat the buffalo given to you by an oil company. This was one telling lesson learned during an address given by Crystal Lameman, a member of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation in northern Alberta near the province’s massive tar sands developments, during a remarkable event hosted by the civil society organization Common Causes November 1 in Calgary.
Lameman, also a climate and energy campaigner for the Sierra Club, recounted a story of how corporate and government reassurances about reclaiming tar sands sites amount to empty propaganda.
One such site has been populated with a bison herd over the past few years. Seeking to generate a positive publicity event, the oil company donated several harvested animals to local Elders to fill their freezers.
“Instead of eating the meat, the Elders took it for testing,” Lameman recounted. “They discovered it was unfit for human consumption.”
For Lameman, the anecdote illustrates the reality that reclamation projects do not repair the poisoning of the water and land that results from unbridled resource development, particularly in the tar sands.
It was a story that riveted audiences during several days of grassroots protest surrounding the Conservative Party convention in Calgary October 31 to November 2.
First Nations activists, including many from Idle No More, joined labour and social groups during the convention to protest a hard political turn to the right by the governing party and to build a strong movement with a view toward the next federal election in 2015.
Many expressed the view that, with the Harper government’s increasingly successful offensive against civil society, environmental organizations and the current attack on the labour movement, First Nations often stand as the last line of defense to the Conservative effort to submit Canada to corporate rule.
For Lameman and the Beaver Lake Cree, these political choices have life-and-death consequences, resulting in an epidemic of rare cancers and community water supplies that are unsafe to drink.
Her First Nation has documented more than 17,000 treaty violations. “We have every major oil company in our traditional hunting territory,” she said. “And none with permission to be there.”
Lameman is part of the effort to sue the Canadian government over the treaty violations. In May 2008, the Beaver Lake Cree Nation filed a Statement of Claim in Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench. In March 2012, they were granted a trial, which could become a precedent for other rights violations related to resource extraction.
“As an Indigenous person of Canada I have constitutionally protected rights, as do my children, and it is my responsibility to ensure that I, my children, my future generations will always have that ability to go to the land to hunt, fish, and forage. My goal is to preserve and revitalize our rights as Indigenous people.”
Every day, she noted, 1.7 billion barrels of fresh water are used in tar-sands operations. Last year in Canada, there were 2.5 million lakes and rivers protected by federal environmental legislation. Now, after the passage of Navigation Protection Act by the Harper government, there are only 97 lakes and 62 rivers that are protected from industrial degradation.
“Who gave this government the right to destroy our fresh-water system?” Lameman asked. “We are economic hostages in our own country.”
Lameman and other speakers at the Common Causes event, including David Suzuki and the Council of Canadians’ Maude Barlow, raised alarms over the push for unrestricted natural resource extraction with no concern for social, economic or environmental consequencesl.
Lameman listed off a number of multi-billion dollar operations that have the potential to devastate communities while sending most of the resulting profits out of the country to multinational corporations.
They include the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines, frenetic development of the dirty oil of the tar sands, the push for more uranium and potash mines, unrestricted hydroelectric development, and the growing fracking operations for shale gas.
In the end, Lameman asked prophetically, “Can you drink your oil? Can you eat your money?”
But there is hope in cooperation, and coalitions between communities and peoples across Canada have the power to fight for a more promising future, Lameman emphasized: “We are here, we exist and we are not going anywhere.”
Lameman invited those interested to learn more about the tar-sands lawsuits to visit www.tarsandstrial.ca