On October 30, 2014, Keepers of the Athabasca organized a protest outside of the Suncor offices in downtown Calgary. The group presented Suncor with a petition, signed by 48,711 people that called on Suncor to stop lobbying against rules that the Alberta government are drafting to help protect the Athabasca River.
“Suncor is trying to seek exemption for not only having restrictions on water withdrawal, but also regulations around tailings pond,” Jesse Cardinal told One River News.
Cardinal is an organizer with Keepers of the Athabasca, and spoke at the Oct 30 rally. She explained that Suncor, Syncrude, and Shell have been lobbying the provincial government, to seek grandfathered exemption proposed regulations within the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan mandating the amount of water that can be extracted from the Athabasca River during low flow season (fall), as well as new regulations around tailings ponds.”The surface water quantity framework puts a set limit on water that can be taken out. In the fall the water gets so low you cannot take a small boat on the river because you’ll bottom out.”
Keepers of the Athabasca: Jesse Cardinal
“They’ve been trying to grandfather themselves in, because their infrastructure is older. But they’re multi-billion dollar companies!”
Cardinal explained that the reason Suncor was the target of the Oct. 30 protest was because of the Big 3 oil companies operating in the Athabasca oilsands, Suncor especially presents itself as a socially and environmentally conscious.
“We called out Suncor because of their big media campaign promoting themselves as stewards and highlighting their relationship with First Nations and Métis,” Cardinal said. “But then they turn around and slap them in the face.”
Cardinal further explained that while First Nations and Métis have been consulted in the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan (LARP), Indigenous representation was really quite low.
“At LARP meetings, you’d have like 16 government representatives, and only like five First Nations and Métis,” Cardinal said. “It just shows how out-resourced First Nations are. First Nations presented the amount of water they needed to continue fishing and doing all the things we need to do [on the Athabasca]. But Alberta ignored that, and set another limit [for water extraction] altogether. But at least it’s a limit, and they recognize the need for a limit.”
“People have the idea that the provincial government are the only ones trying to do anything,” Cardinal worries. “And that’s false. First Nations downstream have been working with scientists and consultants and have put a lot of money and energy into this.”
Sheldon Birnie grew up in Dawson Creek, BC, and received a bachelor of environmental studies from the University of Manitoba in 2011. He lives in Winnipeg, MB, where he is a freelance writer, and the editor of the Manitoba Eco-Journal.