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Alberta and two First Nations make deal for proposed oilsands mine

EDMONTON — The Alberta government has struck deals with two northern Alberta First Nations over a proposed open-pit oilsands mine that's awaiting Ottawa's approval.

EDMONTON — The Alberta government has struck deals with two northern Alberta First Nations over a proposed open-pit oilsands mine that's awaiting Ottawa's approval.

The Mikisew Cree and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations had previously reached deals with Teck Resources Ltd. for the Frontier mine, but were still negotiating with the province over environmental and cultural concerns.

Earlier this month, Alberta's Indigenous relations minister expressed concern that a public spat over the negotiations with Athabasca Chipewyan Chief Allan Adam, who also called for a share of tax revenue from resource projects, could give the federal government a reason to reject the project.

But on Sunday, the province announced agreements have been reached with both First Nations that address bison and caribou habitats and protect Wood Buffalo National Park.

Adam says in a news release he's now confident the project is a net benefit to his community, while Mikisew Cree Chief Archie Waquan called work by Teck and Alberta to resolve their concerns "groundbreaking."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government has until the end of the month to make its decision on whether to approve the project.

"Given the recent discussions with the government of Alberta and their fresh and positive approach, we reconfirm our support of the project and encourage the Canadian government to approve the project without further delay," Adam said in the release.

Alberta Environment Minister Jason Nixon thanked Adam and Waquan, who he said worked hard to balance differing interests.

"Their vision of how resource development can happen alongside Indigenous culture is of great value," Nixon said in a news release, where he also reiterated a call for the federal government to green-light the mine.

"This project has played by the rules. It has followed the process. It's time to get it done."

Fourteen First Nations and Metis communities have signed participation agreements on the Teck mine.

The $20.6-billion project would create an estimated 7,000 construction jobs, 2,500 operating jobs and about $12 billion in federal income and capital taxes. But it's also expected to produce about four million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year over 40 years.

Waquan, in a statement, said his people share Canadians' concerns about climate change. He said Canada needs to do more, but noted his First Nation's involvement in Canada's largest off-grid solar project.

A federal-provincial review last summer determined that the mine would be in the public interest, even though it would be likely to harm the environment and the land, resources and culture of Indigenous people.

Last week, author Alice Munro and dozens of other Nobel Prize winners urged Trudeau to reject the project, calling fossil-fuel expansion an affront to the climate emergency and incompatible with Canada's pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The company responded by saying it was committed to fostering a low-carbon economy, adding lower carbon oil from Frontier would replace higher carbon sources and contribute to reducing global emissions.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2020.

Rob Drinkwater, The Canadian Press

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