A First Nations campaign to raise funds to conduct scientific research on the cumulative impacts of the oilsands has raised more than $27,000, surpassing its original goal of $25,000. The campaign ended yesterday after a short run of two weeks.
The donated funds will go toward the Beaver Lake Cree Nation’s constitutional challenge to the cumulative impacts of oilsands development. The trial is important, says Susan Smitten from the group RAVEN (Respective Aborginal Values and Environmental Needs) because it represents the “first time in Canadian history that the Court is allowing this kind of challenge to widespread industrial activity based on the cumulative effects these activities have on the Beaver Lake Cree’s constitutionally protected rights.”’
The Tar Sands Trial
The pending trial hinges on the First Nation’s ability to demonstrate the cumulative impacts of oilsands expansion on their treaty rights. This is no small feat.
In an interview, RAVEN’s Susan Smitten said “this case is about proving the cumulative impact piece by piece. Experts will be needed to show how each individual species — from the ungulates to the fish — will be or already are being affected by the tar sands industries. This means gathering a lot of data — also about the impact on water, land and air.”
This requires putting together data from disparate sources into comprehensive impacts report for a judget to digest, Smitten says. “Science will create a picture that shows definitively how the treaty rights are being infringed.”
An obvious example, Smitten says, rests in the vanishing caribou herds from traditional Beaver Lake Cree territory.
"The woodland caribou report done by University of Alberta expert Stan Boutin showed the woodland caribou in the Beaver Lake Cree’s traditional region have already declined by 70 percent since 1996. That science is a smoking gun that tar sands development is violating the Beaver Lake Cree’s right to hunt and fish in the band’s usual and accustomed places under the treaty with the government of Canada.”
She adds: “What science will help to clearly show is that the expansion of the tar sands project is making it impossible for the band to hunt and fish: they can’t find an animal, and if they do it is often inedible because it has been exposed to toxins. So the promises in the treaty are not being kept.”