Crystal Lameman got up at the crack of dawn this morning together with her young daughter to travel for three hours on HWY 63, also known as “Alberta’s deadliest highway,” to bring her story to the delegation. She lives with her family near Lac La Biche Alberta, another area immersed in the oil sands.
Crystal was the first young woman in her family to receive two university degrees. While she has all the credentials to make a decent living as a teacher, Crystal feels it is her obligation as a mother to protect her land and culture for her children and future generations. She now spends most of her days speaking out about the exploitation of the oil sands, of her people, and of their land and trying to hold the Government of Canada accountable for violations of their treaty rights.
“We have come to a point where we have to not be afraid of holding the Canadian government accountable for our treaty rights,” she exclaims. But she is a lone voice in her community. “Nobody wants to speak about it because they are scared. They say ‘carry our message but don’t use my name.” One of the reasons is that many of the people in the community work for the industry. They lose their jobs if they speak out. She explained that people in her community don’t have a choice. They either work for the industry or live in abject poverty.
“It should never be right that you have to decide between your morals, values, who you are as an indigenous person over feeding your family.”
Although the Beaver Lake Cree’s rights to hunt and fish for all time are enshrined in Treaty 6, their land is being usurped by the oil sands industry, which destroys the very habitat of the animals and fish they depend on. They can’t even visit their traditional burial grounds anymore. “We have every major oil company on our territory. None of them was given permission by our nation to be there,” she says as she shows us slides of the areas void of life.
But her and her family’s efforts have born some fruit. In May 2008, the Beaver Lake Cree Nation filed a Statement of Claim in Alberta’s court of Queen’s Bench taking the Government of Canada to court for over 17,000 treaty violations. By doing so, they are establishing an important precedent. In March 2012, they were granted a trial.
“After we win this case, so many other Nations will come forward.”
The case is winnable. The law is clearly on the side of First Nations. But one barrier to justice is the high cost of the legal system. The Beaver Lake Cree now have to raise $250,000 for the legal team to file the reply to the Statement of Defense, prepare document discovery and attend critical case management hearings. Learn more about the case and make a donation.
Crystal ends her talk with a powerful message:
“It is my obligation as a mother, my obligation to my ancestors to ensure we have our rights respected. It’s my obligation to my future generations and most of all to our own true mother—something each and every one of us in here has in common. That obligation can never be surrendered. We are keepers of the land, stewards of the land. Every single thing that a human being needs to survive is here in Canada.”