‘It hurt’: First Nations leaders’ pipeline ownership proposal comes as shock to some

A proposal by First Nations leaders in the Fort McMurray, Alta., region to own their own pipeline has caught some community members off guard.

The communities’ leaders announced on April 6 that they either want to buy a stake in the Trans Mountain pipeline or partner and build another future line.

Chief Allan Adam said that he and other leaders of the Athabasca Tribal Council want to study the possibility of owning a pipeline, taking “a step that’s going to be out of the ordinary.”

“I’m a firm believer that if you own something you’re going to look after [it],” he added.

For Alice Rigney, an Athabascan Chipewyan First Nation elder, the news was a surprise.

“It hurt,” she said.

There’s no such thing as a safe pipeline.– Alice Rigney

Rigney, 66, said that most elders in the community don’t want a pipeline and that they weren’t adequately consulted.

Allan Adam, chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, says the Fort McMurray region’s First Nation and Métis communities back pipelines and they want to own one. (The Canadian Press)

Adam has previously said that he doesn’t want to be labelled as an environmentalist, but the news was still a turnaround for a chief who has fought alongside Jane Fonda, fighting against the pace of oilsands development.

Adam said that by owning the pipeline, Indigenous people of Alberta will have control over its benefits and can ensure the environment is safeguarded.

Rigney said she believes that’s too optimistic.

“There’s no such thing as a safe pipeline,” she said.

‘I don’t think it’s a good idea’

Robert Grandjambe, a Fort Chipewyan resident, heard about Adam’s pipeline plans through Facebook.  

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Grandjambe said.

“The Aboriginal person was always regarded as custodians of the land. And we care about the environment and it’s the most important thing to us. At least we’re trying to let the outside world perceive that of us.”

It’s possible others in the community may be more supportive of a pipeline. Many people of the Athabascan Chipewyan First Nation work in the energy sector, according to elder Rigney.

Grandjambe, however, runs a small dog sled and boat tour business.

“Sure, people need jobs, but do we want jobs that are going to sustain us? Or do we want jobs that are going to make us $200,000 a year?” he said. “What is it we really want?”

Grandjambe said there’s a disconnect between the leadership of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and its members, and that  “even our own elected officials don’t tell us what’s going on.”

Eriel Deranger, the executive director of Indigenous Climate Action and a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, says that communities like hers have tried for many years to challenge oilsands projects ‘with little to no actionable recourse or changes to the system.’ (Kelsey Chapman)

“To be frank it’s not surprising that it’s come to this,” said Eriel Deranger, the executive director of Indigenous Climate Action and a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation who previously worked for the nation as a communications co-ordinator.

Deranger said communities like hers have tried for many years to challenge oilsands projects “with little to no actionable recourse or changes to the system.”

Adam said that the idea is still preliminary and that he and other chiefs still have to take the announcement back to their respective First Nations to seek out their approval.



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Sherwood Park

Sherwood Park is a large hamlet in Alberta, Canada within Strathcona County that is recognized as an urban service area.[7] It is located adjacent to the City of Edmonton’s eastern boundary,[8] generally south of Highway 16 (Yellowhead Trail), west of Highway 21 and north of Highway 630 (Wye Road).[9] Other portions of Sherwood Park extend beyond Yellowhead Trail and Wye Road, while Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) separates Refinery Row to the west from the balance of the hamlet to the east.[9]

Sherwood Park was established in 1955 on farmland of the Smeltzer family, east of Edmonton. With a population of 70,618 in 2016,[6] Sherwood Park has enough people to be Alberta’s seventh largest city, but technically retains the status of a hamlet. The Government of Alberta recognizes the Sherwood Park Urban Service Area as equivalent to a city.

History

Sherwood Park, originally named Campbelltown, was founded by John Hook Campbell and John Mitchell in 1953 when the Municipal District of Strathcona No. 83 approved their proposed development of a bedroom community east of Edmonton. The first homes within the community were marketed to the public in 1955. Canada Post intervened on the name of Campbelltown due to the existence of several other communities in Canada within the same name, so the community’s name was changed to Sherwood Park in 1956.
Geography

The Sherwood Park Urban Service Area is located in the Edmonton Capital Region along the western edge of central Strathcona County adjacent to the City of Edmonton.[8] The majority of the community is bound by Highway 16 (Yellowhead Highway) to the north, Highway 21 to the east, Highway 630 (Wye Road) to the south, and Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) to the west. The Refinery Row portion of Sherwood Park is located across Anthony Henday Drive to the west, between Sherwood Park Freeway and Highway 16. Numerous developments fronting the south side of Wye Road, including Wye Gardens, Wye Crossing, Salisbury Village and the Estates of Sherwood Park, are also within the community. Lands north of Highway 16 and south of Township Road 534/Oldman Creek between Range Road 232 (Sherwood Drive) to the west and Highway 21 to the east are also within the Sherwood Park urban service area.

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