'It’s a blow in the mid-section;' James Smith left with oil spill clean-up bills

By Bryan Eneas
November 25, 2016 - 12:20pm Updated: November 25, 2016 - 1:03pm

While Husky’s report on the July 21 oil spill was released last week, one First Nations leader is unhappy with their findings.

“It’s not 100 per cent cleaned up. They still left a lot of debris that’s on the river. They must think it’s going to be flowing down to Nipawin,” Chief Wally Burns said. “You know what? Once that river breaks, all that debris is going to pile up on the shores of James Smith, and that’s creating an environmental impact.”

Burns, of the James Smith Cree Nation (JSCN), received a letter on Nov. 9 stating the energy company would no longer be “providing compensation for meetings with chief, Councils, or representatives” as of September 1, 2016.

“That leaves us, that we as a community, we have to fit the bill which we don’t have the resources to do that,” Burns said. “We still have outstanding payables to pay the [Shoreline Clean-up Assessment and Treatment] team and also the security that’s still out there.”

While Husky Energy compensated the Cree Nation for its initial clean-up efforts, Burns said there is significant work left to do. Some of those efforts now may be put on hold, such as the collection of water, foam, and sediment samples.

“To me we try to offset the costs on what little money we have, and it’s not cutting it,” Burns said. “It’s a blow in the mid-section, where, now what? To me, they are polluters, and polluters must pay.”

The letter also states any First Nations community seeking a third party assessment is encouraged to contact the Saskatchewan First Nations Resources Centre of Excellence.

Burns will be using his treaty and inherent rights to his lands to stand up for the people of James Smith.

“Back in 1867 we signed Treaty, and that document says we own the riverbed,” Burns said. “They’re in violation of our livelihood.”

Former JSCN chief Terry Sanderson and his councillors signed a number of environmental bylaws into law in 1996. The bylaw contains provisions which “applies to all Band Waters.”

Section 10 of the by-laws pertain to fish spawn and spawning grounds. Subsection two states “no person shall alter, destroy or disrupt the spawning grounds of any fish species in the Band Waters, nor carry on any work or undertaking that results in the alteration, destruction or disruption of such spawning grounds.”

Elders, and leaders in the community fear Lake Sturgeon spawning grounds may have been affected

Section 11 of the by-laws deals specifically with “damaging substance.” The section states no one shall knowingly permit or pass into, chemical substances, drugs, poisonous matter, or any other deleterious substance or thing into their river. 

Anyone found responsible for disobeying these by-laws may be subject to a $1,000 fine for every day the by-laws are broken.

Burns commended previous leaders for being considerate of the future generations when drawing up these by-laws.

Burns said he’s still hopeful the community can resolve its issues.

“I do believe that we are gonna find a way to resolve all this. Protecting my community as the chief of James Smith, and working with our Elders, that’s a primary way of doing things, with our Elders,” Burns said.

Burns said he will present the case of James Smith at an environmental and climate change conference next month in Winnipeg. He expects Jim Carr, the minister for Natural Resources to be in attendance.

Husky did not respond to questions from paNOW by publication time.

The energy company has previously stated they are committed to working with communities and First Nations. Early this month the company declared the shoreline clean-up to be completed. Husky said through a statement on their website they will continue monitoring activities over the winter and into 2017.


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