By Ana Simeon – Campaigns Director, RAVEN
When you live in the middle of the biggest sacrifice zone on Earth, how do you keep up your spirit? When the plants and animals that sustained your community are gone, how do you pass on land-based cultural teachings to the next generation?
The Beaver Lake Cree have witnessed their homeland in northern Alberta scarred and polluted by numerous in-situ tar sands projects. The sheer size of the area occupied by a criss-cross of oil and gas wells has displaced moose and elk, and most traditional hunting and gathering grounds are no longer available. Jets from a military base constantly roar overhead. Yet the Beaver Lake Cree have not only endured and survived, they are envisioning and proactively building a very different future for their land and their community. Most RAVEN supporters are familiar with the Beaver Lake Cree vs Canada and Alberta – a colossal and costly legal battle the Beaver Lake Cree have taken to the courts in order to protect their land for the long term.
The Cree people of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation live in an area of forest the size of Switzerland. Their homeland is on the front lines of destructive tar sands mining: the most toxic, polluting, and destructive form of oil production there is. In order to protect one of the world’s most important carbon sinks, caribou habitats dotted with hundreds of freshwater lakes and rivers, this nation of 900 people are in the process of taking the Canadian government and the province of Alberta to court. In their legal challenge, the Beaver Lake Cree claim that the more than 19,000 fossil fuel projects in their traditional territory threaten to destroy their way of life – by polluting and fragmenting the land and water that have sustained them for centuries.
The enormous costs and resources required for the legal challenge might well have daunted this small First Nations community. But the Beaver Lake Cree keep rising to the challenge – in the courtroom and at home. Even as they fight the tar sands giant they are exercising energy sovereignty and building an alternative to the oil and gas economy on their land.
First, the Beaver Lake Cree solarized the Amisk community school. Amisk students participated in every step of the project. They created artwork to spark a dialogue in the community, took a solar course and helped install the panels on the school roof. The Amisk project is now complete and keeping the lights on through the dark northern winter. The community is now working to solarize the community store, health centre and the Wah-Pow treatment centre. As Chief Germaine Anderson puts it, using the power of the sun is a way of life that aligns with the Treaty 6, signed in partnership with Canada in 1876.
“Our Treaty states that as long as the sun shines, the rivers flow, and the grass grows that we will continue our traditional way of life. The sun will continue to shine and be a part of all our lives, and we should be utilizing it with the present and future solar capabilities,” says Chief Anderson.
The Beaver Lake Cree tar sands trial has been a long journey but with two favourable court decisions to date the Beaver Lake are rapidly moving ahead. There is exciting news brewing that we’ll be able to share very soon. Stay tuned!
RAVEN is a small but mighty registered charity with a mission to raise legal defence funds to help Indigenous Peoples in Canada defend their treaty rights and the integrity of their traditional lands and cultures. RAVEN’s vision is a country that honours the ancestral laws, rights and stewardship values of Indigenous Peoples and their equitable access to the justice system within a thriving natural environment.
Since 2014, RAVEN has disbursed over $2.6 million dollars to our campaign communities. This support has resulted in the cancellation of permits for the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, fended off several efforts by Taseko Mines to destroy Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) for an open pit gold mine, and ensured the Beaver Lake Cree litigation has the funds to continue the trial to stop the degradation of their traditional lands by the tar sands industries. We currently support 15 Nations in seven different legal actions, with more campaigns pending.
For more information about the work of the Raven Trust go to raventrust.com