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Environmental Degradation


Before the arrival of European settlers to Canada, Alberta’s First Peoples lived in close harmony with nature. Clean water, plentiful herds of buffalo or caribou, and miles of forest formed the basis of traditional Aboriginal life. When the federal and provincial governments began to promote the development of the land, this pristine wilderness came under threat. Over the years, the development of land has continued to cause significant strain to the environment and to the traditional Aboriginal way of life.

In some cases, the development of land has been beneficial to national economy and has been executed with minimal damage to surrounding communities or resources. In most cases, however, forestry, hydro-development, mining, logging, and large-scale oil and gas exploration have placed undue pressures on Alberta’s land. Moreover, environmental development has negatively impacted many of Alberta’s isolated Aboriginal communities, whose voices are too often drowned out in the name of economic development. Traditional hunting, trapping, and fishing practices have been disrupted and small-scale economies have collapsed. In many cases, Aboriginal Peoples have stood by helplessly, watching the land that has been their peoples’ home for hundreds of generations taken away as large companies move in and destroy their way of life forever.

Such is the case for northern Alberta’s Lubicon Cree First Nation, a community of 500 peoples nestled east of the Peace River and north of Lesser Slave Lake. The Lubicon Cree Peoples’ plight began in 1970 with the initiation of a large government-sponsored oil extraction program. Since then, the traditional way of life of the Lubicon Peoples has been lost. Continual logging and oil and gas exploration have caused the destruction of many acres of forest land, killing much of the wildlife and making it impossible for the peoples to continue the way of life they once led. The annual trapping income decreased by 90% in the span of four years, causing the local economy to collapse. Since then, a devastating 90% of peoples have turned to welfare in order to make ends meet. The plight of the Lubicon Peoples has been documented by Amnesty International, and in 1990, the United Nations Human Rights Commission recognized that the actions of the Canadian government were violating the basic human rights of the Lubicon First Nation community. Although some progress has been made in recent years, a settlement has yet to be reached. In the meantime, the Lubicon Cree have united to protest the continual degradation of their land. In 2005 alone, six wells and four pipelines have been built on Lubicon territory.1

The good news is that in recent years, there has been a wide-scale effort on the part of governments to be more responsible for their actions when it comes to the environment or the welfare of Aboriginal cultures. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act recognizes the importance of traditional Aboriginal knowledge when it comes to matters of the land. Efforts are being made to involve Elders and other members of Aboriginal communities in the planning, management, and assessment of environment-related actions. Canada’s First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Peoples possess a unique knowledge about the environment because their Peoples have lived in close contact with nature for hundreds of generations. They may provide important historical information or help identify potential effects of an operation on the environment. Their input is integral and long overdue – and might be the saving grace when it comes to stopping the destruction of precious land.




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