James Smith Cree Nation finds tar-like substance on the banks of the Saskatchewan River

By Bryan Eneas
September 16, 2016 - 5:40pm

When the Saskatchewan River swelled due to rain in northern Alberta more driftwood started appearing along the river banks.

“We’ve still being going hard in regards to our findings. The river came up about three feet and all the debris that came down from Alberta hit our community. Now what we’re finding is a substance that’s on the debris that could be oil,” Chief Wally Burns said.

Sticks and logs piled along the banks of the Saskatchewan River, which runs through the heart of James Smith Cree Nation lands, are splattered with a black tar-like substance. A faint smell of oil comes off the pieces of wood. A few globs of the substance can be found in some of the vegetation on the shores of the river.

Representatives from Husky Energy visited James Smith during the second annual culture day’s celebration and participated in a sweat with leaders and elders from the community according to Burns. A water ceremony was also held with the Husky representatives, where two feathers were placed into the river after a prayer.

Burns said Husky Energy is still waiting on an analysis which will determine the chemical makeup of the oil. Depending on the results, it will identify which brand the oil belongs to — Husky or a different provider.

“We don’t know whose oil that is, they’re saying,” Burns said. “Still, there was only one oil leak in the North Saskatchewan River.”

Burns said talks are still ongoing between James Smith and Husky Energy representatives. He said this is a good starting point, but Burns wants to make sure the First Nation's concerns are addressed appropriately.

“I’m looking after Mother Earth. As a protector of Mother Earth, I’m the chief of my community, so it’s my responsibility to take those actions,” Burns said. “That’s why I took the steps defending my community, and I will always take steps defending my community.”

Community members who are used to seeing wildlife around Fort-a-La-Corne said a herd of about 30 elk haven’t been seen since the oil started appeared in late August. No hunting, fishing, and swimming signs are still posted around the community and on roadways leading to the river.

The Water Security Agency (WSA) has still not determined whose oil is running through James Smith. Water, foam, and sediment samples were sent off on August 26.

“At this time (Environment Canada experts) are still looking at the data. Their initial indication was that the sample indication may be non-definitive; in other words we may not get an answer from what’s available in the information,” Sam Ferris from the WSA said.

A representative from Husky Energy was not immediately available for comment.


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