Northern Leaders Tour OilsandsDownstream Environmental Risks Studied

June 4, 2008

A delegation of leaders from the Northwest Territories begin their tour of the Fort McMurray oilsands region today. They have made the journey to learn about the environmental and social impacts of oilsands development and to establish relationships with Alberta First Nations. A key issue of concern is the fate of fresh water that flows north, linking indigenous peoples along the Athabasca River to the MacKenzie River and the Beaufort Sea in the Northwest Territories.

"We are worried about the quality of our water. We live directly downstream of oilsands development at the end of the Slave River," says Tom Unka, of the Deninu K'ue First Nation. "We need to be consulted about oilsands development and be sure that our water is protected. Our leaders are keen to learn more about the profound impacts of this industry, and to build bridges with First Nations in northern Alberta."

The visiting delegation includes members from the Deninu K'ue and the Gwichi'in First Nations, who are concerned about the downstream impacts of oilsands development. Their tour, which is organized by the Pembina Institute, will include presentations from Pembina Institute experts, a visit to the Oilsands Discovery Centre and meetings with Mikisew Cree and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations in Fort Chipewyan.

"In the Northwest Territories water is everyone's responsibility, because we depend on it for drinking and for traditional hunting and fishing. We don't want to lose these practices, like some of our friends to the south," says Charlie Snowshoe, a Gwichi'in Elder attending the tour. "We have to try to do something for ourselves to protect the quality and quantity of the water."

"We have heard from northerners that they are worried about being downstream of such massive industrial developments. We share their concern," notes Peggy Holroyd, Arctic Program Director with the Pembina Institute. "Rapid development of the oilsands deposits in the Athabasca boreal region and its associated water withdrawals, tailings generation, and contribution to climate change induced impacts on source water is a transboundary issue."

"Oilsands development in the Athabasca region has had devastating effects on our people. We are afraid to drink the water or eat the fish from the river as we have always done. The fish have strange tumours, and cancer rates in our community have increased dramatically in the last 10 years," says Pat Marcel, Chair of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Elders. "We need to form alliances with our downstream neighbours, who also have the potential to be affected by this environmental destruction."

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For more information contact:
Tom Unka, Deninu K'ue First Nations: 867-444-9729
Charlie Snowshoe, Gwichi'in Elder: 403-996-0510
Pat Marcel, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation: (cell) 780-799-2157 (tel.) 780- 697-3745
Peggy Holroyd, The Pembina Institute: 403-996-0510

More information and high resolution photographs of oilsands impacts are available at http://www.pembina.org/oil-sands

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