When you live in the middle of the biggest sacrifice zone on Earth, how do you keep up your spirit? When the plants and animals that sustained your community are gone, how do you pass on land-based cultural teachings to the next generation?
The Beaver Lake Cree have witnessed their homeland in northern Alberta scarred and polluted by numerous in-situ tar sands projects. The sheer size of the area occupied by a criss-cross of oil and gas wells has displaced moose and elk, and most traditional hunting and gathering grounds are no longer available. Jets from a military base constantly roar overhead. Yet the Beaver Lake Cree have not only endured and survived, they are envisioning and proactively building a very different future for their land and their community.
Beaver Lake Cree vs Canada and Alberta is a colossal and costly legal battle the Beaver Lake Cree have taken to the courts in order to protect their land for the long term.
The enormous costs and resources required for the legal challenge might well have daunted this small First Nations community. But the Beaver Lake Cree keep rising to the challenge – in the courtroom and at home. Even as they fight the tar sands giant they are exercising energy sovereignty and building an alternative to the oil and gas economy on their land.
First, the Beaver Lake Cree solarized the Amisk community school. Amisk students participated in every step of the project. They created artwork to spark a dialogue in the community, took a solar course and helped install the panels on the school roof. The Amisk project is now complete and keeping the lights on through the dark northern winter.
“In the face of extreme energy, pipeline approvals, governments running rampant over our inherent and treaty rights we are here, we are exercising self- determination and we are changing the language and shaping the economic and political ideologies of our children to be in line with sovereignty and traditional land use.” – Crystal Lameman, Beaver Lake Cree Nation member #BLCN #Resistance #EnergySovereignty
The community is now working to solarize the community store, health centre and the Wah-Pow treatment centre. As Chief Germaine Anderson puts it, using the power of the sun is a way of life that aligns with the Treaty 6, signed in partnership with Canada in 1876.
“Our Treaty states that as long as the sun shines, the rivers flow, and the grass grows that we will continue our traditional way of life. The sun will continue to shine and be a part of all our lives, and we should be utilizing it with the present and future solar capabilities,” says Chief Anderson.
The Beaver Lake Cree tar sands trial has been a long journey but with two favourable court decisions to date the Beaver Lake are rapidly moving ahead.
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