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Construction at the Fort McKay First Nation outdoor amphitheatre, which will seat 1,800 people at completion next year. (Kelly Cryderman/The Globe and Mail)
Construction at the Fort McKay First Nation outdoor amphitheatre, which will seat 1,800 people at completion next year. (Kelly Cryderman/The Globe and Mail)

The dispute the entire oil industry is watching Add to ...

There, sentiment about Moose Lake is more strident. Métis president Ron Quintal says Fort McKay has already “given, given, given” to industry.

“Our traditional territory has been completely wiped off the map,” Mr. Quintal says.

While Chief Boucher talks of court cases and negotiations, Mr. Quintal says the community is on edge over Moose Lake.

Oil sands developers “will never get close to that area. The community is at a point where they would go Oka,” he says, referring to the violent 1990 land dispute between Mohawk people and the town of Oka, Que.

Mr. Quintal later gave a more detailed explanation regarding his comments in an e-mail: “If the community exhausts all legal and political options in trying to protect Moose Lake, the community would be prepared to take a stand, whether it be peaceful or a standoff. God forbid that anyone get hurt. However stopping development in this area is so crucial that the community would be prepared to protect it themselves.”

While speaking vehemently about Moose Lake, Mr. Quintal spends much of his time and energy focused on the community’s oil-related business ventures and following the First Nations lead in building houses for the Métis community members.

Mr. Quintal’s Métis community is equally ambitious as the First Nation, and has plans to break ground on a hotel and conference centre within two years, and eventually build a strip mall.

“What we’re trying to do is make Fort McKay as completely livable as possible,” Mr. Quintal says.

 

The way forward

For the energy industry, finding resolution with First Nations starts with engagement.

Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers president David Collyer, a former Shell executive, spent a number of years working with Chief Boucher. He said they didn’t always agree, but they always had a good working relationship. The dispute over Dover is an issue for the industry, he said.

“Any time that we have differences with somebody like Jim, it’s a cause for concern,” he said. “I think he’s been a very balanced First Nation leader with respect to the oil sands industry,” Mr. Collyer said. “What I would encourage is for all the parties concerned to try to find a constructive way through it.”

But, he noted, business often wants to move quickly with projects, he said, while “First Nations want to take the time. And we need to understand that there’s a need to take the time to develop the relationship, to build the trust.”

A report by energy, environmental and First Nations leaders released this week warned that bitter conflicts across Canada are “leading us towards energy resource development gridlock.” The report said First Nations need to be consulted well in advance of applications being filed for project approvals, and discussions should address the total increase of resource development on traditional lands, not just the effects of a specific project. The report also endorsed aboriginal demands that they see greater benefits from resource development, including some form of revenue sharing.

Another report, by Douglas Eyford and commissioned by Ottawa, said First Nations need “a real stake in regional economies,” and “to foster inclusion, aboriginal employment and business opportunities must translate into real jobs and successful businesses.”

In an interview, Alberta Energy Minister Diana McQueen – who served as environment minister up until Friday, but was moved to the energy portfolio in a cabinet shuffle – would not comment on whether cabinet will move to approve the Dover project before the court appeal plays out, but said the government and Fort McKay have had a good working relationship in the past.

“We value working with the chief, and trying to find the balance for the multiple land uses,” Ms. McQueen says. “First and foremost is to find out from the chief what are his concerns, and then to see if there’s an opportunity for solutions.”

But there’s little sign Fort McKay is going to compromise when it comes to protecting Moose Lake. While the past two decades have seen the community embrace the business opportunities that come with living in the midst of one of the world’s largest oil-producing regions, they maintain they didn’t choose the oil sands, the oil sands chose them.

Earlier this year, Mr. Gladue, a hunter and band councillor, spoke about Moose Lake being Fort McKay’s last wild retreat at a hearing on the project in Fort McMurray. He asked the Alberta Energy Regulator’s three panel members to carefully consider the band’s request for the buffer zone.

“They have chopped off our arms and our legs. Now they are going for our heart.”

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