Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Challenges Shell in Legal Hearing

Today the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) is arguing that Shell Canada's proposed expansion of the Jackpine Mine in the tar sands is in violation of constitutionally protected aboriginal rights outlined in Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution and Treaty 8, which the ACFN signed in 1899. Arguments against the proposal will be heard by a provincial-federal Joint Review Panel.

The ACFN participated in a Fort McMurray rally today, asking for individuals, organizations and communities across Canada to stand in solidarity with their tribe. 

"We are here today because a legal challenge may be the only remaining piece of law that can stop the destruction of our land," said Allan Adam, chief of the ACFN. "We are thankful for the mountain of support we've been receiving. People understand the significance of this challenge and what we must do for our land."

The proposed expansion will increase Jackpine Mine's production capacity from 200,000 barrels per day (bbl/d) to 300,000 bbl/d and will extend the mine's lifespan to 2049.

The project will add 1.8 million tonnes of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, roughly the equivalent of 280,000 additional cars on the road. The waste from the expanded project will amount to some 486 billion litres of liquid tailings including mercury, arsenic and lead, which Shell proposes to permanently bury in what is called a 'pit lake,' according to a press release.

The numerous environmental and human health risks associated with the proposal, outlined in this Pembina Institute report, include threats to wildlife, wetlands, forests, air quality, acid deposition, climate change and water use.

Since the ACFN announced their opposition to the project, the Joint Review Panel and Shell Canada received over 50,000 public comments from individuals and organizations across Canada and the United States. 

"We want the ACFN to know loud and clear that in challenging Shell's latest tar sands expansion they have the full support from North America's conservation community," said Keith Stewart, climate and energy campaign coordinator at Greenpeace Canada.

Mashi Cho, who attended the hearings, published this statement on the ACFN website:

"I am sitting in a room in Fort McMurray listening to our lawyers argue about the need to protect our constitutionally protected rights to fish, hunt, and trap – rights that are being threatened by the expansion of the tar sands and specifically the Shell Jackpine Mine. We have been here before – in courtrooms, government offices, and the boardroom of Shell Canada – trying to protect our traditional way of life and the spirit of our community. But this time it is different because we are not alone. Today over 50 conservation and social justice groups along with many First Nations have come out in support of our efforts. Over 50,000 people have voiced their opposition to the Shell mine and as I write this there is a bus full of supporters making their way from Edmonton to join us. Facebook is littered with postings expressing support for the ACFN. We are honoured.

The oil companies have more money then we can ever dream of. They can out spend us at every turn, make more ads, and pay more experts. But we have the passion of our people, our culture, our Treaty, the Canadian Constitution, and the truth on our side. And with the outpouring of support that is coming in from all corners of Canada and the US, we will confront Big Oil and protect our land and our rights. We are not alone."
Yesterday Lubicon Cree member Melina Laboucan Massimo spoke about the Jackpine Mine at the Defend Our Coast Rally in Victoria, British Columbia. Here is her powerful call for support of the ACFN in front of thousands of individuals gathered at the sit-in.
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