A joint statement from Northern Indigenous and Inuit groups is calling for Indigenous-led monitoring of water sources in the Alberta tar sands and mining operations.
The statement was released following a four-day meeting at Ingamo Hall, dubbed the Nagwichoonjik Water Summit — which was the first time the Dene Nation, Inuvialuit Regional Corporation and Northwest Territory Metis Nation came together to discuss their concerns on water safety. The conference ran from March 13 to 17.
“Much of the focus was on the recent tailings’ ponds spill from the Alberta tar sands containing toxic chemicals including arsenic leaking into the watershed and flowing to the Arctic Ocean to International waters,” read the statement compiled by Dene Nation communications officer Leanne Goose. “Imperial Oil Ltd’s Kearl mine has released wastewater harmful to wildlife for almost a year before reports surfaced in February of this year.
“For decades, Canada, Alberta and other provincial/territorial governments have permitted development in the Mackenzie Water Basin, including tar sands development, without regard for sustainability and the cumulative impacts on the ecosystem and Indigenous rights, culture and way of life. These issues are exemplified by failures on the management of tailings ponds, including the recent tailings leak from the Imperial Oil Kearl project.”
An update from the Athabasca Chipewyan Nation was presented to the meeting, including the commitments they are seeking from the federal and provincial governments of Canada.
Collectively, the parties are calling for greater accountability from the government of Alberta and oil industry on the management and notification of tailings ponds and leaks, a commitment to an independent study on the integrity of all tialing ponds and a overhaul of the Mine Financial Security Program to ensure the mining industry is the one tha tpays for reclaimation of remediation of tailings ponds.
The three parties are also calling for an “independent investigation of the downstream impacts of tar sands pollution on water and air quality, aquatic ecosystems and human health, including consideration of both Traditional/Indigenous Knowledge and Western Science.”
Having a seat at the table for further trans-boundary water matters is also essential, said the joint press release, as well as funding to determine the impacts of microplastics and other ongoing water contaminants from mining and resource extraction industries.
The statement comes as the Alberta government is currently suing the federal government over the Impact Assessment Act, which requires federal regulators to consider the impact of climate change on future oil sands projects.