Northern Residents Turn out for Forum on Toxic Tailings Pond Spill


Dene Nation press release

Date of publication: 
26 November 2013

Yellowknife, NT – More than 140 residents and presenters attended a public forum last night in Yellowknife to exchange some overview and insight in to the Sherritt International Corporation (SIC) toxic waste spill of 670,000 cubic metres that occurred in two river tributaries October 31, 2013 near Hinton, Alberta.

“There is no emergency preparedness plan in place to deal with any spill let alone a massive one as this one has been,” said Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus. “We felt that First Nations and the public needed an opportunity to speak out on this very serious issue so we decided to hold a public forum. What we know now is that there are truly many concerns associated with this particular spill from First Nations and the public-at-large.”

Erasmus is pleased with the public’s attendance. “It was a great turn out and I believe that we’re on the right track with hosting such a forum. Dene leaders from other communities were also there to share their understanding and speak out on the movement of the plume of polluted water.”

As moderator of the event, Erasmus introduced presenters from the Government of the Northwest Territories’ Environment and Natural Resources department Dr. Erin Kelly, federal government’s Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development department representative Robert Jenkins, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam, Chair of Keepers of the Water Sam Gargan and the Vice- president of Sherritt International Corporation Sean McCaughan.

“Mr. McCaughan from SCI said that while the company was working with the Alberta government to investigate the site, the company is committing itself to ensure that community outreach was foremost in getting information to our communities and that’s what we wanted to hear,” said Erasmus adding that the public now has to hold them to that commitment and be accountable.

Erasmus acknowledged the three key constituents laid out as next steps to work out. “Firstly, we recognize there is no emergency preparedness plan in place, lack of a workplan for remediation and thirdly a wildlife monitoring plan is critically needed.” He said that the First Nations along the river system are very concerned about the spill travelling underneath the ice. “We are asking for the federal government to take the lead on the part of Canada because our treaties are with the Crown which obliges them to be at the forefront of this clean-up. However, Canada’s position is not clear and so adds uncertainty for our people downstream. This environmental event is a major tragedy and it should be a wake-up call for everyone.”

Today, the First Nations communities also had their chance to voice their questions and concerns in a radio phone-in program. Many people from across the Northwest Territories, including northern Alberta and Saskatchewan called in. “The phone-in show was key to ensuring that their comments are being heard,” said Erasmus.


For more information, contact: Barrett (Sonny) Lenoir Dene Nation Tel: (867) 873-4081


First Nations furious with governments weak response to massive contaminant spill in Athabasca River

Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Press release –

21 November 2013

Fort McMurray, AB – That Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) are seriously concerned with government inaction regarding the Sheritt Coal slurry spill that occurred on October 31st resulting in close to a billion litres of contaminant entering tributaries of the Athabasca River and eventually the Athabasca River itself. The Alberta government and the Alberta Energy Regulator waited three weeks to issue a clean up order and release information about the contents of the spill.

“We are furious with the Alberta Energy Regulator and governments for the lack of response for the largest spill in Canadian history. We are asking for the resignation of Minister McQueen and Gerry Protti for failing to do their job. For three weeks we have been living in uncertainty about the safety and level of contamination of our water systems. For us, it’s not just about our drinking water, it’s about our rights and culture,” stated Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.

The Wood Buffalo Regional Municipality decided only yesterday they would shut down the water intake at the water treatment facility and work with Sheritt to deliver clean, safe potable water to members of communities along the path of the plume.

Bruce Maclean from Maclean Environmental Consulting, a company that works with the local First Nations monitoring programs raised some serious concerns and stated, “Water quality data from the first days of the spill indicate many contaminants of concern to be above CCME guidelines, some 70 times above the guidelines. This includes PAHs, cadmium, arsenic, lead, selenium, silver, thallium, and even uranium. These numbers and contaminants represent real danger to human health and associated drinking water.”

Maclean also commented on the long term impacts of the settling of this sediment load and associated contaminants on fall spawning fish. “It will be difficult to assess without some serious sampling efforts, some of which may need to take place in the spring. We can assume that survival of fish eggs in the path of the plume will be compromised.”

The Nation asserts that the government failure to protect and safeguard the Athabasca river, the environment and eco-systems, equates to a failure to uphold the Canadian Constitution and Treaty and Aboriginal rights in the region. Treaty and Aboriginal rights to hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering rights are uniquely protected under the Canadian constitution.

“Government and industry continually ignore that our rights, our culture and our people rely on safe, clean eco-systems and waterways to continue our way of life,” stated Lorraine Hoffman, Councillor for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. “We can’t keep the moose, caribou, bison, and fish from the contaminated plume as it travels downstream. This spill is just another example of both Alberta and Canada’s failure to protect the interests of not only First Nations, but the interests of all Canadians. Water is life, no matter who you are or where you are.”

Last year the federal government made sweeping changes to numerous environmental protection acts, however the Athabasca River was one of few rivers, lakes and oceans that maintained federal protected under the Navigable Protection Act. The ACFN is now questioning why the federal and provincial governments are allowing the continued abuse of this river system. To date there has been no contact with federal agencies about the implications of this spill.

“We have been raising concerns about the lack of safety and protection of the river and environment for years. This summer Dr. Timoney released a reportEnvironmental Incidents in Northeastern Alberta’s Bitumen Sands Region outlining 9,262 industry incidents on the Athabasca river and how the government is failing to enforce environmental regulations. Now, the Athabasca is subject to the largest coal mine spill in Canadian history and it has taken governments three weeks to show any concern. Where is the federal protection? Something is seriously wrong with this picture,” stated Chief Adam.

In light of the new data, the Nation feels that a formal review of the official communication protocols around environmental disasters is needed. The huge lag time in reporting and overall lack of transparency and leadership has led the ACFN to take matters into their own hands. The ACFN will be launching their own sampling before, during and after the plume passes through their community.


For more information please contact

Eriel Deranger, ACFN Communications Coordinator 780-903-6598