Indigenous communities near a controversial oilsands development in Alberta’s northeast are lending their voices in support of the project, arguing the company in charge will keep environmental impacts to a minimum.
The Teck Frontier oilsands mine is located between Fort McMurray and Fort Chipewyan and is currently awaiting approval from a joint provincial and federal panel. The mine hopes to produce 260,000 barrels per day by pipeline once at full production.
The company has agreements with all 14 Indigenous communities in the project area.
The project has received a lot of attention from advocates who argue the mine could do serious harm. In November, Indigenous and environmental groups held a conference calling for the mine to be scrapped.
Ron Quintal, the president of Fort McKay Métis Nation, said his community signed on after years of consultation and shares a lot of the concerns regarding the environment but believes Teck will take all the necessary steps to lessen those impacts.
“I respect everyone’s opinion, but I find in far too many circumstances Indigenous people are used as a lightning rod to polarize the issues like oilsands development,” he said. “I don’t agree with that. Indigenous communities should have the right to have their own voice and to be able to speak. Speaking on behalf of Fort McKay Métis, we don’t want anybody coming in and telling us our business.”
Fort McKay Métis Nation, located roughly 20 km north of the proposed mine, recently became self-declared and has about 112 members. The community relies heavily on the oil industry to provide work.
Quintal said the community has taken a lot of steps to become self-sufficient, including working with industry. He said he’s never seen the level of consultation that Teck has provided.
“At the end of the day, if those (environmental) impacts are going to continuously mitigate, I think that’s half the battle,” he added.
Bill Loutitt, CEO of McMurray Métis, said with nearly 600 members, his community is the largest in the area. Like Quintal, Loutitt praised Teck for working with Indigenous communities in order to come to an agreement.
“They continue to develop in an environmentally friendly way,” he said. “That’s one thing that is in our agreement. There’s a lot of committee work, and when there are issues, we’re on the ground and we help them work through these to a solution. It’s very tough to develop oilsands without some environmental damage. By working with them, we feel we’re going to be able to help them reduce that amount of environmental impacts.”
Loutitt said the mine will do a lot to boost the community’s employment and mentioned they have promises from Teck that they will hire within the area.