Coal Mining in Alberta: The Harms of Resource Extraction Projects to Indigenous Communities

May 5, 2021
By: admin

Coal Mining in Alberta: The Harms of Resource Extraction Projects to Indigenous Communities

Published [post_published]
Breanna Peske, University of Alberta

The Rocky Mountains are a beloved feature in the landscape of Canada (Turtle Island) and hold an important connection to many people in Alberta and beyond. It is important that the preservation of this landscape remains a priority during proposals to develop coal mines on the Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains. This can be done through consulting with the Indigenous Nations and communities who have cared for this land for countless generations. This perspective is essential to ensure the longevity and sustainability of these lands and waters for generations more.

The Livingstone Range is just one of many areas of Indigenous traditional territory in Alberta's Rockies that could be impacted by new open-pit coal mines.
The Livingstone Range is just one of many areas of Indigenous traditional territory in Alberta’s Rockies that could be impacted by new open-pit coal mines.

We are all Treaty People

Treaty 6, Treaty 7, and Treaty 8 are agreements made that encompass the land on the Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains, as well as the majority of Alberta. They establish a nation-to-nation relationship between federal and provincial governments and Indigenous Nations and serve to protect many Indigenous rights to livelihood, like hunting, fishing, gathering, and ceremony.

Boundaries of Treaties in Turtle Island. Treaties 6, 7, and 8 overlap Alberta.
Boundaries of Treaties in Turtle Island. Treaties 6, 7, and 8 overlap Alberta.

All residents in Canada, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, are implicated into these treaties through this mutual agreement, making it everyone’s responsibility to make sure treaty rights and responsibilities are being upheld and that these lands and waters continue to be protected.

Taking lands and waters destroys Indigenous culture and livelihood

Land is uniquely important for the ways it spreads culture, knowledge, and tradition through generations, and the loss of access to traditional spaces caused by mining and extraction projects has significant negative impacts on Indigenous communities. The dispossession of lands and waters from Indigenous Nations has been a large tactic in colonizing North America and involves disrupting traditions, preventing access to land, and destroying the means for these nations to support themselves and ensure their livelihoods.

The area depicted is traditional Niitsitapi territory, where the Grassy Mountain open-pit coal mine may be approved for development.
The area depicted is traditional Niitsitapi territory, where the Grassy Mountain open-pit coal mine may be approved for development.

Many extraction projects disregard the promises entrenched in treaties and reconciliation efforts by the Government of Canada. Allowing these projects to continue not only maintains, but also furthers the dispossession of traditional territories from Indigenous communities and leads to long term damage and pollution that affects the air, water, and the ability to fish and hunt long after projects have ended.

“My cousins are listed among the murdered and missing women and girls… [the government] must not be allowed to bend the rules to facilitate operations that are a threat to the safety of Wet’suwet’en women.

Dinï ze Smogelgem (Source: The Narwhal)

Mining projects endanger Indigenous women and girls

Indigenous women and girls face disproportionately high rates of violence, assault, and murder in Canada. This has been a longstanding and severe issue that has led to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The Inquiry notably highlights the danger that resource extraction projects pose to Indigenous communities and Indigenous women specifically.

When mining projects enter a region, they bring large groups of workers from outside of the local community into “man camps”, which significantly increases danger to Indigenous women in the community. The infrastructure needed to support these workers takes further Indigenous land, and the increase in local population size adds stressors to limited existing infrastructure.

 

These infographics from the Niitsitapi Water Protectors summarize the expected impacts of the Grassy Mountain coal mine on surrounding Indigenous communities.
These infographics from the Niitsitapi Water Protectors summarize the expected impacts of the Grassy Mountain coal mine on surrounding Indigenous communities.

Indigenous policy consultations are important if we want to protect the Rocky Mountains

Treaties 6, 7 and 8 prevent the provincial or federal government from making decisions that affect the treaty principles without agreement from the Treaty First Nations (“unilateral” decisions). Continuing the development of resource extraction projects without consultation and consideration for Indigenous input actively violates treaty principles.

For Indigenous consultation to be meaningful, it needs to address not only Tribal Governments but Indigenous communities as a whole. Consultation processes that only engage Tribal Governments often exclude other community members or limit their participation, and the conclusions of these consultations can end up failing to capture the wishes of the community.

Coal agreements overlapping Treaties 6, 7, and 8 in Alberta.
Coal agreements overlapping Treaties 6, 7, and 8 in Alberta.

Extraction projects, like the Grassy Mountain coal mine proposed for development on the traditional territory of the Niitsítapi in Southwestern Alberta, contradict calls and efforts for reconciliation made by the Canadian and Albertan governments. Indigenous-led protection of land and waters must be considered if Albertans hope for the longevity and sustainability of the beloved Rocky Mountains and beyond. It is imperative that Indigenous leaders be consulted on future policy decisions to ensure the continued biodiversity in both Alberta’s natural spaces and secure livelihoods for the people who depend on them.

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