Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation has spent millions in legal fees fighting oilsands development
By Connie Walker, CBC News
Tonight, Canadian rocker Neil Young will perform the second show in his "Honour the Treaties" tour.
The tour is raising money for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, a small Alberta band that's involved in a big battle against development in the oilsands.
Here's what you need to know :
1. ACFN is in Treaty 8 territory
The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) has around 1,200 members, and over half of them live off of the reserve.
The band has eight reserves around the southern shores of Lake Athabasca, with a combined area of 34,767 hectares, but they consider their traditional territory to encompass all of Treaty 8. Their ancestors signed Treaty 8 at Fort Chipewyan in 1899.
ACFN members speak Dene and call themselves K’ai Taile Dene, meaning “people of the land of the willow.”
2. ACFN receives no federal funding
In 2013, the First Nation did not sign its annual funding agreement with the federal government.
The band says the agreement contained a clause that would have forced it to abide by existing and future legislation — something it says would violate the government’s constitutional and legal obligations to consult and accommodate treaty and aboriginal rights.
By not signing the agreement, the band is losing around $1.6 million from this year’s budget.
3. Band relies largely on economic development
ACFN owns and operates several business entities under an umbrella organization called ACDEN.
It's made up of 17 businesses that largely provide services to the oil and gas industry.
They call themselves 'one of Canada's most successful Aboriginal enterprises'. Their first company was started in 1994 with just 10 employees and now have over 3,000.
Last year, ACDEN generated between $200 - $250 million in revenue.
4. ACFN spends millions fighting oilsands
Over the last five years, ACFN has spent over $2 million in legal fees in relation to its challenges of oilsands development.
It's biggest challenge was a hearing into the expansion of the the Jackpine mine, which ended up being approved last month.
“We’ve lost a lot of litigation but it evens out because the victories we feel have really changed things drastically in the way the oilsands are developed,” says Eriel Deranger, communications coordinator and member of ACFN.
5. Upcoming litigation
In 2014, ACFN will likely be participating in two hearings - for the Pierre River mine and for the Teck Resources Frontier Mine.
"In addition to that, we are challenging the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan and we filed for a judicial review of the Jackpine mine decision." says Deranger.
“We are probably looking at millions of dollars in legal fees for just 2014.”
But Deranger says despite the cost, this is something they are committed to fighting for.
"We want to conserve and protect our region. We want to ensure that our river systems, our wildlife and our people are healthy not just now but into the future. And that my children can experience the land and the river systems and know what it means to be a Denesuline woman or a Denesuline man and that won’t happen if we allow the government to develop the way that they want it to."