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Trans boundary management agreements between provinces and territories exist because the natural world doesn’t recognize jurisdiction.

There’s no good reason why the Northwest Territories-Alberta border should play a role in whether the duty to consult Indigenous groups that could be affected by an industrial project applies.

And there’s no shortage in recent memory of examples of what happens when companies are taken to court over a lack of proper consultation, which is a constitutional requirement: the consultations are ordered, projects are delayed and thrown into question, driving up costs and driving away investors.

Teck did a significant amount of consultation with First Nations in Alberta located near and far from the location and projected environmental footprint of the proposed Teck “mega” oilsands mine north of Fort McMurray and just a few kilometres from the southern border of Wood Buffalo National Park and contains sensitive pelican and bison breeding grounds.

All 14 Indigenous communities in what the company describes as the “broader Frontier project area” have signed agreements expressing their support and to be clear, News/North is not necessarily opposed to the mine, the largest of its kind ever, but is troubled by the lack of consultation granted to Indigenous groups downstream of the project in the NWT and Smith’s Landing First Nation just south of the border.

Teck says it would support up to 2,500 permanent jobs over 40 or more years of operation, plus as many as 7,000 during the construction phase of what would be the northernmost of its 14 mines, generating $55 billion in royalties for Alberta, $12 billion for Canada and $3.6 billion for municipal governments. The company promises to mine progressively and remediate the land as they move around the 292-square kilometres it would occupy, to employ best practices in areas including greenhouse gas management and environmental protection.

But Smith’s Landing First Nation Chief Gerry Cheezie says the Crown has a duty to consult his community before Frontier sees a single shovel enter the ground, and that in the absence of SLFN’s input, the federal Minister of the Environment and Climate Change doesn’t have enough information on the potential impact to the waters North of 60 to approve the $20.6 billion project.

We have to agree.

More than that, as signatories to Treaty 8, Cheezie writes that SLFN is standing up for the territory that treaty covers, a huge area that includes land in Manitoba, Nunavut and Saskatchewan in addition to the NWT and Alberta, and contains the Frontier project. The K’atl’odochee First Nation and Northwest Territory Metis Nation have also expressed reservations.

The project “creates a fear and real risk to members of SLFN and residents of the NWT who rely on lands and water to sustain their way of life” and breaches the 2015 Mackenzie River Basin Bilateral Water Management Agreement between the NWT and Alberta, according to Cheezie.

He and other Indigenous leaders in the NWT are looking for leadership from the GNWT on the subject. The MLAs, including members of cabinet, are still new in their jobs and there’s no reason to believe they have anything but the best of intentions. But politics is a rough business and their credibility is on the line.

The ball is in Environment and Natural Resources Minister Shane Thompson’s court.
A more thorough reckoning of how residents of the South Slave and beyond will be affected by Frontier as Cheezie calls for is fully warranted, and the GNWT should at least explain what its thinking is on one of the largest mining projects ever proposed in Canada, digging for oilsands upstream of Great Slave Lake and the Mackenzie River.

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