Jason Franson/The Canadian Press
An oil spill occurred into the North Saskatchewan river near Maidstone, Saskatchewan, on July 22. First Nations and other water supplies were affected.

First Nations Demand Inclusion as Pipeline Breach Fouls North Saskatchewan River


The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) has called for “full First Nation participation and representation during the emergency response” to a pipeline leak that dumped 53,000 to 66,000 gallons of oil into the North Saskatchewan River system on July 21.

While pipeline operator Husky Energy was keeping several First Nations abreast of developments, the FSIN said it should also include representation in the command center that the company has set up.

“We acknowledge the inclusion of information to Chief Whitecalf as a good first step in cooperating with First Nations to address the oil spill but we need further representation in the command center,” said FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron in a statement on July 25. “We need assurances that First Nations’ interests in respect to our Inherent and Treaty Rights to hunting, trapping, fishing and gathering will be taken into account during the decision making process. As stewards of the land it is our role to protect the environment including the waterways.”

Sweetgrass First Nation Chief Lori Whitecalf has received updates, according to the FSIN. Meanwhile, Battleford Tribal Council and the Prince Albert Grand Council are preparing for the spill to flow through their communities, the FSIN said. The emergency has already caused the Prince Albert water system to shut down its intake, and the 35,000-population city is building a temporary water pipeline, between 12 and 20 miles long, from another river, according to the Canadian Press. That will arrive at a point on the South Saskatchewan River near Muskoday First Nation, the Canadian Press reported.

The idea is to wait it out until the oil plume passes, though no one knows how long that will take. The spill could thus result in water shortages both in Prince Albert and in communities farther north, closer to the origin, such as North Battleford, which has also shut off its water supply, the Canadian Press said.

Wildlife experts are cleaning up birds drenched in “bitumen-like” crude,  as one volunteer described it to CBC News. A sparrow died, and a Canada goose and great blue heron were treated, CBC News reported.

Numerous First Nations members and communities are located within the affected areas, and FSIN officials participated in a conference call on July 24 between First Nation leaders, the mayor of Prince Albert, and representatives from the provincial and federal governments to air concerns and discuss the issues.

“A number of issues emerged that included a potential water shortage in the City of Prince Albert, the impacts to the environment along the North Saskatchewan River,” said FSIN Vice Chief E. Dutch Lerat in the group’s statement. “We need an accurate assessment of the amount of oil spilled into the river to fully understand the amount of time and resources that will be needed to deal with this environmental catastrophe.”

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