Royal Society Report on Tar Sands ignores Traditional Knowledge

Indigenous Peoples, Community Members and Allies raise concerns

EDMONTON, Dec. 15 /CNW/ - The Royal Society of Canada report on the tar sands released today, spurred concern by directly impacted communities and allies today as conclusions were put forward around the impacts of tar sands development within the region.

"With data coming from primarily government and industry sources, this report will likely lead to further inaction on addressing the concerns of community members who live in fear of drinking their water or from consuming traditional foods or medicines," said Clayton Thomas-Muller, Tar Sands Campaigner of the Indigenous Environmental Network. "This situation violates International Human rights laws and Canada's own constitutional laws pertaining to First Nations rights."

The report seeks to come to conclusions on the extent and toxicity of air and water pollution but those conclusions are based primarily on data from industry and RAMP, the government body the panel completely condemns in other sections of the report. The report also tries to draw conclusions about elevated cancer rates in Fort Chipewyan without ever talking to the Indigenous communities, or incorporating Indigenous Traditional Ecological knowledge.

"What I find most alarming about this report is it uses a lot of industry and government data and ignores the thousands of years of traditional knowledge or land use of the Dene people.  It's undeniable that our people have seen significant impacts on the levels and quality of our river and lakes due to the tar sands.  We have seen sicknesses and disappearance of traditional food sources," exclaimed Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.  "Our people are not arbitrary land users we are the rightful protectors and stewards of the land. Our rights are constitutionally protected and recognized within International conventions including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples."

No new scientific research was undertaken by the Royal Society of Canada in developing this report. The report relied in several sections primarily on government and/or industry data. Concerns that have been echoed by environmental and community organizations.

"This report seems to downplay some of the only independent scientific research done on the Athabasca water systems and traditional food sources in the area." stated Eriel Deranger of the Rainforest Action Network.  "Both Schindler and Timoney have found elevated levels of contaminants in the watershed, a critical habitat for fish, waterfowl and other large mammals that many of the First Nations people rely on - it is very concerning to see scientists of this stature try to undermine this evidence."

"Despite the conclusions within this report, the truth is that how these tar sands are affecting local people and their traditional lands can only be described as deadly. There has been a clear lack of participation by our Elders and knowledge holders in the review of tar sands impacts, undermining an honest and holistic assessment of what is really going on in this region,"   asserted Alice Martin, Cree Elder. "What is terrible is that this report suggests that the Indigenous people who have the traditional knowledge, the people of the land, do not know what they are talking about when it comes to the environmental and health impacts in there community! It is evident that the ugly truth about the tar sands is not what the government wants to hear, because it will impact the economy in a negative way, but the question is how will this lack of truth impact the people who have lived for generations on this land?"

"It has been shown time and time again that Indigenous knowledge offers us greater insight into assessing environmental issues. The UN convention of biological diversity reiterates the importance of including Indigenous Knowledge with respect to assessing impacts on bio diversity," explained Sheila Muxlow, Director of Sierra Club Prairie. "Before anyone can come to conclusions about the impacts of tar sands operations on the health of the region there must be an inclusion of Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge within the assessment."

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For further information:

  • Clayton Thomas Muller, Tar Sands Campaigner, IEN 218-760-6632
  • Eriel Deranger, Freedom from Oil Campaigner, RAN, 780-903-6598
  • Alice Martin, Cree Elder 780-880-5179
  • Sheila Muxlow, Director, Sierra Club Prairie 780-660-0312