An oil worker holds raw sand bitumen near Fort McMurray. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

An oil worker holds raw sand bitumen near Fort McMurray. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

’Last wilderness’: Alberta chief wants meeting on land approved for oilsands

EDMONTON — The chief of a First Nation that has taken Alberta to court to protect its “last wilderness” wants to meet with Premier Jason Kenney to get him to honour the government’s promises.

“We’re confident that the new government is going to do right,” said Grand Chief Mel Grandjamb of the Fort McKay First Nation. “There were commitments to the community.”

The First Nation is surrounded on three sides by oilsands development. Mines come as close as four kilometres to the community.

The band has been negotiating for two decades with the province to protect Moose Lake, west of the townsite.

“We want to be able to smell the good air,” said Grandjamb.

“The water is good enough to drink right from the lake. We send hunting camps out there every year. We supply cabins to all our elders who want to go out there.

“This is our last wilderness.”

In 2018, the band thought it had a deal putting a 10-kilometre buffer around the lake. The deal was never ratified and, in June 2018, Alberta’s energy regulator approved a $440-million, 10,000-barrel-a-day oilsands mine that would come within two kilometres of the shore.

The First Nation is fighting that approval and arguments were heard this week in the Alberta Court of Appeal.

Grandjamb said the band has a five-year-old letter from former premier Jim Prentice endorsing the Moose Lake plan. The chief said it’s time Kenney lived up to the government’s promises — and his own.

“I’m very confident that he will get to the table,” said Grandjamb.

“(That’s) based on his public statements, based on his consultations with the chiefs of Alberta, based on my open discussion with him, based on his analysis that we have to work together to move Alberta forward.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 1, 2019.

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at ↕row1960

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