By Tim Kalinowski on February 2, 2021.
The Kainai-Blood Tribe will be launching a legal challenge against the Government of Alberta over its decision to unilaterally rescind the 1976 Coal Policy.
A community notice posted on the tribe’s website on Thursday announced its intention to pursue this course of legal action.
“Under the Policy,” the statement reads in part, “open pit mining was not permitted in Category 2 lands in the Rocky Mountains to protect the headwaters of several major river systems and critical fish and wildlife habitat, particularly in highly sensitive areas of the Crowsnest Pass Region. The legal challenge was filed jointly with the Siksika Nation on November 25, 2020 and will be heard by the courts sometime in 2021.”
While opposed to coal mining in what were formerly Category 2 lands, the Blood Tribe leadership, which has faced some backlash from its community members over the issue, did reach an agreement with mining giant Benga last November over its plans to mine in Grassy Mountain which sits in Category 4 lands under the old definitions. Included in the agreement was a duty to consult with the tribe as mining goes ahead with its operations to ensure proper reclamation in the aftermath and ongoing oversight by an Environmental Stewardship Committee which includes Blood Tribe members.
However, it appears this mutual agreement with Benga over Grassy Mountain coal does not extend to other coal mining proposals now being considered by the Kenney government on the Eastern Slopes.
“Over the past few years,” the statement reads in a later passage, “Kainai has clearly and strongly communicated to the Government of Alberta and the coal sector that open pit mining in the areas protected under the Coal Policy would be opposed by Kainai.
“Alberta’s regulatory system is limited to assessing environmental impacts of projects in isolation from one another and other regional factors. Kainai is deeply concerned that without a rigorous assessment of cumulative impacts and robust protection of river basins, the approval of mining in formerly protected Category 2 lands will be an environmental disaster that cannot be undone. Similar mining developments just a few kilometers to the west in BC’s Elk Valley have decimated the Fording and Elk Rivers and had major impacts on the environment. Many communities in the Elk Valley now truck in their water supply because the rivers are not safe for human consumption.”
The statement concludes it does not accept the Alberta government’s assertions it is committed to “responsible development” in the Eastern Slopes, particularly in light of its decision to unilaterally rescind the 1976 Coal Policy without any public input or consultation.
“Kainai has a connection to the Crowsnest Pass region that dates back more than ten thousand years,” it reads. “The headwaters of the Oldman River Basin are sacred to the Blackfoot Nations and their way of life. Alberta acknowledges this reality in its land use plans for the region, and committed to consulting Kainai and other First Nations on key decisions. Even so, the Government of Alberta made its hasty decision to strip protection of the area without any consultation. Recent announcements by the Minister of Energy cancelling a handful of coal leases and general assurances from the Minister of Environment about ‘responsible development’ are merely political gestures and will not protect these fragile and highly valued areas of the Rocky Mountains.”
The Herald did try to reach out to Chief Roy Fox of the Blood Tribe for further comment on this story, but did not hear back from him prior to press time.
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