Western First Nations launch $3 billion lawsuit over aboriginal oil

Lawyers behind a lawsuit over a long-simmering dispute concerning what two First Nations call federal mishandling of energy resources on their reserves say other bands are considering joining the legal action.

Lawyers behind a lawsuit over a long-simmering dispute concerning what two First Nations call federal mishandling of energy resources on their reserves say other bands are considering joining the legal action.

In a statement filed late Monday, the Onion Lake and Poundmaker Cree bands accused Indian Oil and Gas Canada of failing to promote and develop energy resources on their lands and of failing to protect those resources from being drained by wells adjacent to them.

Harvey Strosberg, one of two lawyers representing the bands, said he’s opened talks with other bands interested in joining.

“We want the court to make it into a class action,” said Strosberg.

“We’ve talked to at least another Five Nations and they are very supportive. Some of them are in the process of retaining us.”

Because aboriginal bands are not allowed to disburse reserve lands, energy companies seeking to develop the oil and gas beneath them must deal with Indian Oil and Gas Canada. That agency is responsible for promoting development, negotiating deals, issuing licences, collecting royalties and monitoring activity.

Because the bands can’t do the work themselves, the agency is obliged to look after First Nations interests, said Strosberg.

“The Indian nations can’t do anything. They have to pass this off to the federal government. (The government) said, ‘You can’t do it yourself … we’ll take of you.”‘

Figures in the statement of claim — which contains allegations not yet tested in court — question that care.

The claim alleges there have been 41 wells drilled on Poundmaker lands with 10 producing. That compares with 242 wells — with 86 producing — immediately adjacent to the Saskatchewan reserve.

The situation is similar for Onion Lake, which straddles the Saskatchewan-Alberta boundary, says the statement.

“The (agency) did not actively promote and solicit leasing opportunities to exploit the oil and gas rights on the designated reserve lands.”

As well, the statement of claim says oil and gas pools flow underground in response to pumping activity. It claims Ottawa didn’t protect resources under reserve lands from being drained by wells adjacent to them.

“If you have 100 wells pumping on the adjacent property and 10 wells pumping on the reserve, you’ll drain more than your share,” Strosberg said.

The statement says compensation measures such as pools or royalty payments are commonplace in other resource plays where different players exploit the same resource.

The statement also asks for a full audit of Indian Oil and Gas Canada’s handling of First Nation energy revenues.

It’s not the first time bands have criticized the agency.

In 2002, Alberta’s Stoney First Nation accused it of failing to collect all the royalties the band was owed and said similar problems existed for other bands.

Strosberg said he hopes the federal government will choose to negotiate a settlement.

“If you want to fight, we’ll fight, but if you want to talk, we’ll talk,” he said. “We prefer to talk.”

Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief Perry Bellegarde also encouraged the government to settle.

“Based on our natural resource wealth, First Nations should be among the wealthiest in Canada, but federal mismanagement and neglect of its fiduciary duties has resulted in lost revenue for First Nations, perpetuating a cycle of poverty,” he said in a statement.

“I encourage the Crown to begin negotiations in good faith with all parties involved, to work towards a reconciliation that honours First Nations title and rights.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

This Dec. 2, 2020, file photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows vials of the COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Johnson & Johnson via AP
What you need to know about Johnson & Johnson’s approved single-dose vaccine

Canada added a single-dose COVID-19 vaccine to its pandemic-fighting arsenal on Friday,… Continue reading

FILE - This March 20, 2018, file photo shows the YouTube app on an iPad in Baltimore. YouTube on Friday, March 5, 2021, said it has removed five channels run by Myanmar’s military for violating its community guidelines and terms of service. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
YouTube cancels Myanmar military-run channels, pulls videos

YouTube monitoring the situation for any content that might violate rules

Statistics Canada’s offices in Ottawa are shown on Friday, March 8, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Canada posts $1.4B trade surplus for January, first surplus since May 2019

Total imports increased in January to $49.8 billion

The wreckage of a fatal crash involving a semi-truck and the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team bus near Tisdale, Sask., is seen on Saturday, April, 7, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Court to hear arguments on delay in Broncos lawsuit for proposed class action

11 lawsuits have been filed by victims and their families

Bryson, six, and Mara, eight, play with puppies from Dogs With Wings Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
WATCH: Dogs With Wings introduces Red Deer program

A program that trains puppies to be certified service, autism, facility and… Continue reading

Team Canada third John Morris follows as second Carter Rycroft (right) and lead Nolan Thiessen (left) sweep his rock during round robin competition against Team Newfoundland and Labrador at the Brier curling championship, Wednesday, March 9, 2016 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Champions at The Brier list

Brier champions since the inception of the Canadian men’s curling championship in… Continue reading

FILE - This Jan. 22, 2013 file photo shows Martin Bashir at the EA SimCity Learn. Build. Create. Inauguration After-Party, in Washington. British police said Thursday March 4, 2021, that they will not launch a criminal investigation into the journalist Martin Bashir over his 1995 interview with the late Princess Diana. (Photo by Nick Wass/Invision/AP, File)
UK police won’t probe journalist over 1995 Diana interview

Diana’s brother alleged Bashir used false documents to convince Diana

Dillon Dube scores hat trick for Flames in 7-3 win over Senators

Dillon Dube scores hat trick for Flames in 7-3 win over Senators

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Toronto on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Liverpool's manager Jurgen Klopp gives instructions during the English Premier League soccer match between Liverpool and Chelsea at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Thursday, March 4, 2021. (Phil Noble, Pool via AP)
Liverpool slumps to historic 5th straight loss at Anfield

Liverpool slumps to historic 5th straight loss at Anfield

Philadelphia Flyers' Sean Couturier (14) celebrates with teammates after scoring against Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry (35) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, March 4, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Flyers rally from early deficit to stun Penguins 4-3

Flyers rally from early deficit to stun Penguins 4-3

Most Read