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Eight Alberta Métis communities, many surrounded by and involved with oil sands production, are sounding the environmental alarm and demanding nation-to-nation treatment before the Trans Mountain expansion project moves ahead.
Herb Lehr, President of the Métis Settlement General Council, says only three council communities have been picked by the feds for formal discussions and he remains in the dark about when these will occur.
“You want to talk about pipelines, I don’t mind talking about pipelines,” said Lehr. “Now if you put another pipeline in … there’s going to be way more production and all of our traditional lands are going to be utilized much more than they currently are.”
The Métis council represents a combined landmass bigger than Prince Edward Island, govern themselves like a municipality and are formally recognized under 1990 provincial legislation in Alberta.
Vanessa Adams, spokesperson for Natural Resources minister Amarjeet Sohi said the government did in fact speak with the council three months ago but did not indicate if further talks were forthcoming.
“On March 15, 2019, Minister Sohi met with President Gerald Cunningham of the Metis Settlement General Council to discuss the Trans Mountain Expansion project,” writes Adams. “As it re-initiated Phase III consultations, the Crown sought to be inclusive in developing a list of groups to be consulted.”
Other Métis groups the federal government’s report cites as receiving a TMX confab include the Métis Nation of Alberta, its Zone 4 council and the Gunn Métis—Local Council #55 (Lac Ste. Anne), but Lehr said those groups represent no physical land base.
“Cunningham’s not the president anymore and that was just a brief conversation where he told them that they had to talk to the council because they’re the ones who represent the communities,” said Lehr. “We represent the Métis landholders in Alberta, not the Métis Nation.”
Lehr said he welcomes the TMX expansion and contracting opportunities, but insists more attention be paid to cumulative environmental effects that the council is prepared to speak to in-depth.
“We have a huge problem already with reclamation. In Alberta, they’re 71 years behind,” he claimed. “But everybody wants to talk about who will own the right-of-way … nobody’s talking to us. They forgot the producers.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government would sell 100 percent of the pipeline project to Indigenous interests at the cabinet announcement June 18, where he green-lit its twinning.
Trudeau nationalized the existing line for $4.5 billion in August of last year, in attempt to de-risk the original $7.5 billion expansion that mired Kinder Morgan’s B.C. transmission ambition in provincial and federal court challenges.
Forty-three First Nations and other Indigenous groups currently back Trans Mountain, while only a dozen joined the Tsleil-Waututh’s Federal Court of Appeal challenge over insufficient consultation in the National Energy Board’s original, positiver recommendation to build.
Tsleil-Waututh Chief Leah Wilson says she’s still not interested, but three Indigenous groups have expressed ownership interest: Western Indigenous Pipeline Group of First Nation’s on the pipeline right of way, the Alberta Iron Coalition and Project Reconciliation.
To date, the Indigenous pipeline group has been the focus of federal consultations and consist largely of groups that fall under the Indian Act.
In a previous interview on Bill C-69’s tribulations with former federal resources lawyer Bill Gallagher—expert on matters where resources and Indigenous rights intersect—he said Ottawa has a fiduciary duty to consult the right of way interests based on jurisprudence.
And Lehr is making much the same argument, citing the recent Daniels Supreme Court decision affirming Métis as “Indians” under s. 91(24) of the Constitution and the Powley decision (2003) affirming their right to hunt under section 35 puts them on a similar footing.
Conservative MP David Yurdiga agrees and told The Post Millennial that he’s asked for better engagement by the feds with the Métis Settlement General Council.
While only a few of its communities border Yurdiga’s Fort McMurray – Cold Lake federal riding, Yurdiga said he came to know them as then-reeve of Athabasca Council, and that Ottawa remains confused about the real Métis stakeholders.
“There’s a misunderstanding with government and bureaucrats in Ottawa —they assume the Métis Nation of Alberta speaks for them,” said Yurdiga. “And when they consult they forget to actually consult with the settlements, which are a land-based government. It’s time their voices are heard.”
Lehr said that the government’s environmental rhetoric and promises to properly consult Indigenous interests does not match their actions to date.
“I’m talking about the cummulative effects over the next 50 years of this (TMX) project,” Lehr said “There’s already an orphaned well problem, the lands aren’t being reclaimed and now we have another pipeline.”
According to the most recent 2017 Alberta Oil and Gas Orphan Abandonment and Reclamation Association report, nearly $250 million has been “leveraged” (re: loaned) to date in addressing abandoned wells—a environmental management issue that is getting more cumbersome.
“In 2012, our inventory of orphan properties at fiscal year-end was 74 in total. By 2017, our well inventory has risen to 1,778, with more than 650 received in the 2017 fiscal year alone,” the report says. “This represents a major increase in field work.”
The Métis Nation of Alberta did not respond to TPM’s request for comment for this story.