In the context of the climate crisis, projects such as the Trans Mountain Pipeline have received widespread backlash for being environmentally destructive. However, a newly proposed project in northeastern Alberta has purposefully flown under the radar. The Frontier Project, a proposed tar sands mine from Teck Resources Limited, is threatening the land and water of the 14 Indigenous communities living in the area.
Teck’s Frontier Project is currently awaiting approval from the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Jonathan Wilkinson, following a report released in July 2019 by the Joint Review Panel, established by the Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change and the Alberta Energy Regulator. The panel conditionally recommended the approval of the project. Wilkinson has until February to issue a decision on whether the proposal will be implemented. It is projected to produce 260,000 barrels of bitumen per day by 2037, “the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as [putting] roughly 10 million new cars on the road,” according to a report from the Council of Canadians. Both the provincial and federal governments have been largely silent on the issue, attempting to approve the project while avoiding media attention and criticism.
Many Indigenous activists are organizing to protect their land from environmentally damaging projects. Last month, during the COP25 UN Climate Change Conference, Indigenous Climate Action held a demonstration against the Teck Mine. During this protest, Elder François Paulette, representative of the Dené Nation and Smith’s Landing First Nation, declared, “we outright opposed the Teck project. It’s 30 km south of Wood Buffalo National Park. This project did not consult with us, their report did not include Indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge.”
Many leaders in the area have formalized agreements with Teck, including Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam and Ron Quintal, the president of the Fort McKay Métis Community Association. Chief Allan Adam has also supported the Trans Mountain pipeline in the past, saying “If we want to be successful, we have to work together and come together. [The pipeline] is in the national interest of Canada.”
Despite this, opinions within affected Nations vary significantly, calling into question whether these formal decisions reflect the interests of the communities these officials represent. Honorary National Chief of the Dené Nation, Bill Erasmus, has opposed similar projects in the past, explaining that the expansion of tar sands “develop[s] the tailings ponds, which have toxic chemicals in them, and those leach into the environment, expanding into the water system, which comes north to us.”
The federal and provincial governments must consider the ramifications of these expansion projects, especially while claiming to work towards lower carbon emission targets. Further, the aforementioned 2019 report found that the construction of the Teck Mine, “in combination with the effects of other existing, approved, and planned developments and other disturbances in the region surrounding the project [will be] adverse and significant for most [I]ndigenous groups.”
Indigenous activists have been continuously advocating for land protection with minimal recognition. It is crucial for non-Indigenous people to uplift these voices, and support their action. Widespread public criticism of the mine could impact the Minister’s decision regarding its implementation. There are many ways to take action and express your opinions on the project, including a number of petitions and letters that you can sign, which are linked in the online version of this editorial.
You can also personally contact your local MP – for students who live in Milton-Parc (which is in the riding of Laurier—Sainte-Marie), this is Steven Guilbeault, who can be reached at 613-992-6779 or email@example.com. Furthermore, contact Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson at 613-995-1225 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To keep up with recent developments, follow #RejectTeck, Indigenous Climate (@Indigenous_ca), Stand.earth (@standearth), and No Tar Sands (@NoTarSands) on Twitter.