The Fort McMurray First Nation put the last nail in the coffin of Aboriginal involvement in the federal-provincial Joint Oil Sands Monitoring (JOSM) program last week, becoming the fifth and final Aboriginal representative to leave the table.
According to media reports, Fort McMurray Chief Ron Kreutzer said the decision was difficult, but said the First Nation felt excluded and frustrated.
Frustration with JOSM seems to be the trend. The Fort McKay First Nation was the first to withdraw from the process last October, citing “a frustrating and futile process” of attempting to have its concerns met.
Following quickly on their heels were the Athabasca Chipewyan and Mikisew Cree First Nations of Fort Chipewyan, and the Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation.
Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Mikisew Cree First Nation have monitoring programs in the Peace Athabasca Delta, but they were not utilized by JOSM. Pictured ACFN Community Based Monitoring team.
Though explicit details of the reasons for pulling out aren’t available for each First Nation, those given by Fort McKay have similarly been echoed by the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation: not enough meaningful involvement by the Aboriginal parties in the monitoring process, and poor communication.
Of key concern was the decision by Canada and Alberta to create a separate sub-table for Aboriginal concerns through the Athabasca Tribal Council (ATC) rather than incorporate their interests directly with the rest of the program, including the scientific monitoring.
Even then, monthly meetings of the ATC sub-table were thwarted due to an alleged lack of coordination and communication by the federal and provincial governments, Fort McKay representatives complained.
At the time, the Alberta government said the reason for creating a separate table was not to segregate the Aboriginal governments but to increase the effectiveness of discussions, which could be “unfocused” if every party was to sit around one table.
The $150-million, three-year JOSM program was launched in 2012 and originally composed of Aboriginal representatives, environmental monitoring organizations, industry and both governments.
Since its inception, the program has come out with numerous studies on air and water quality, biodiversity monitoring and wildlife.
While environmental groups say it is an important first step, critics question at what point monitoring will trigger changes in regulation.