In 1876 the Beaver Lake Cree’s ancestors signed a treaty with the Government ceding an area the size of Switzerland in return for continued & guaranteed rights to hunt, fish and gather plants and medicines on these lands. It was enacted to guarantee their way of life.
The massive tar sand industry in Alberta currently decimating thousands of hectares of boreal forest is encroaching upon the Cree Nation’s lands. Much has already been lost but they don’t need to actually lose their lands to be affected by the tar sand industries. Water courses are being polluted, ecosystems are dying and wildlife migration patterns are being altered.
The Cree Nation are therefore mounting a legal challenge to the oil developments, 30% of which are on their land. You’d think they have the legal high-ground seeing as Queen Victoria assured them in the treaty that the land would be viable for their way of life for generations to come, and seeing as the dirty exploits of global oil companies are at odds with that assurance. All of this of course happened against the backdrop of the Royal visit to Canada.
However….….even if you have that legal high-ground, battling oil giants and the Canadian government doesn’t come cheap. The Cree Nation have already paid more than half a million dollars wading through Canada’s legal system, which is why Michael Mansfield, the famous UK barrister who helped free the Birmingham Six offered his services to them free of charge.
Adding such a formidable supporter to their cause would no doubt have yielded some kind of result, but on 27th June a judge in Alberta ruled that as he is not a member of the Alberta Law Society, Michael Mansfield therefore does not have the right to appear in an Alberta court room.
This ruling denied Mr Mansfield a right of audience and successfully ended the Beaver Lake Cree Nation’s attempts to have free legal representation in their ongoing battle against oil companies up north. Michael Mansfield was quoted as saying:
"It’s hugely disappointing when a court cannot see its way to exercise its inherent jurisdiction to permit lawyers from the UK willing to act pro bono rights of audience. The case raises enormous issues of local, national and international importance. The environment and the way of life of First Nations living in Alberta is being dramatically affected by the activities of multinational oil companies, banking institutions and government agencies. They have already lost hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of land, had water resources depleted and contaminated, air polluted, and wildlife decimated.
This project which has been escalating since 1967 is the largest of its kind in the world and has repercussions for all of us with regard to climate change and global warming. The Cree nation in particular has taken a stand against a vast array of vested interests, who wish to continue this exploitation in the name of dirty oil. They are entitled to all the help they can garner particularly as they are a vulnerable community with limited resources.
It is peculiarly ironic that this decision should occur in the very week that Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge arrive in Canada, because it is the Prince’s forbears who pledged to ensure that there would be “no forced interference with the First Nation’s mode of life” (treaties 1876 and 1899 between the Queen and the First Nations). The Royal Family has been repeatedly requested to address this promise which has been seriously violated and this is another opportunity for this matter to be raised.”