First Nations, coal companies asking Alberta for better consultation on mines

Call for coal consultation

Five First Nations whose land stretches along most of Alberta's Rocky Mountains and three coal companies hoping to develop mines in the area have written the province to demand better Indigenous consultation.

"Alberta has not engaged with Siksika in any meaningful way," says one letter from Chief Ouray Crowfoot.

Evan Steinhauer, manager of the Whitefish Lake First Nation, writes that "Alberta has failed to develop an adequate Indigenous-specific consultation process."

The Kainai, Ermineskin and Aseniwuche Winewak First Nations have also sent letters.

The coal companies asking for better consultation are Cabin Ridge, Montem Resources and Benga Mining, which currently has a project before a federal-provincial regulatory panel.

"We support and encourage the government of Alberta, and Siksika and Kainai Nations to press on with the important discussions that lead the parties through to an accommodation table," says the letter from Bradley Johnston, chief development officer for Cabin Ridge.

The First Nations say they have never been consulted on any of the United Conservative government's moves — from rescinding, then restoring a policy that protected the Rockies from open-pit coal mines to the current approach to consultations.

"Ermineskin was not even advised that the decision (to rescind the policy) was to be made or that it had been made," wrote Carol Wildcat, consultation co-ordinator for the First Nation located about 80 kilometres south of Edmonton.

"Ermineskin became aware through media reports."

The bands say they are concerned about the erosion of the land base they need to practise their treaty rights: hunting, gathering natural medicines and holding religious ceremonies. They're also worried about mining's potential environmental effects on water and land.

Energy Minister Sonya Savage said in an email that more details on consultation are coming.

"We have already connected with Indigenous leaders to provide more details outlining how we will seek their input. This process will run in parallel to the engagement being led by the coal policy committee," she said

Savage said last week there would be government-to-government talks.

The letters refer to a government offer to meet with the five chiefs. First Nations are also free to make a presentation to the coal consultation panel, which has one Indigenous member.

"(The government) appears to be relying on a public consultation process that was unilaterally developed," Steinhauer wrote. "A public consultation process will not suffice."

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