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Beaver Lake Cree Nation vs. Canada and Alberta, Canada

The Beaver Lake Cree Nation are taking on the Alberta and Canadian governments in a ground breaking case against cumulative impacts from the Tar Sands. They are fight the tar sands, exercising energy sovereignty and building alternatives.


The Beaver Lake Cree Nation (BLCN) territory in Treaty 6, spans 38 972 square kilometers and is in the heart of the Alberta Tar Sands, which have been called “the largest – and most destructive – industrial project in human history” [13]. Living in “the middle of the biggest sacrifice zone on Earth”, this community has been resisting ongoing violation of their treat rights, by taking legal action against the provincial and federal government over the cumulative impacts to their lives and ecosystems [8]. The governments have leased out much of BLCN’s land to oil companies without any prior consultation or approval from the BLCN. They have authorized 300 projects representing 19,000 individual authorizations related to oil and gas, forestry, mining and other activities BLCN lands [12]. The territories host about 35,000 oil and natural gas wells, a Canadian Forces base, and thousands of kms of pipelines, access roads, and seismic lines. While the BLC say that while ecosystems are rapidly declining, the government has plans to triple bitumen extraction [3]. These projects are destroying the lands, polluting waters, poisoning animals and rendering BLCN’s food sources inedible. “Most significantly, caribou herds in the BLC territories are disappearing fast…With oil in the water table, with animals being poisoned, with forests being so fractured that it no longer supports any of the fur bearers or other animals that First Nations depend on for food” [10]. “Indigenous rights are the last stronghold against the unmitigated expansion of the tar sands at source. The BLC are carrying a case on their backs that could set historical precedence: success would mean that it would become much harder if not impossible to expand tar sands projects and would greatly curtail the industry’s expansion plans” [11]. 

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Beaver Lake Cree Nation vs. Canada and Alberta, Canada
State or province:Alberta
Location of conflict:Beaver Lake Cree Nation
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mineral ore exploration
Military installations
Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Specific commodities:Crude oil
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Canada and Alberta have issued up to 19,000 ‘individual authorizations’ (permits) which translates into 300 individual industrial projects that take up more than 90 per cent of Beaver Lake Cree traditional territory. As a result, the once-pristine forest and hunting grounds are now covered with 35,000 oil and gas sites, 21,700 kilometres of seismic lines, 4,028 kilometres of pipeline and 948 kilometres of road – with devastating effects on caribou populations and fish species [9].

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Project area:3,897,200
Level of Investment:unknown
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:900
Start of the conflict:05/2008
Relevant government actors:Government of Canada
Government of Alberta
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:RAVEN Trust (Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs Trust)
The Co-operative
People & Planet
World Wildlife Fund (WWF)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Social movements
Beaver Lake Cree First Nation and thier supporters
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Public campaigns
Shareholder/financial activism.
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Oil spills, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Noise pollution, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Other Environmental impacts
Potential: Desertification/Drought, Mine tailing spills
Other Environmental impactsPoisoning of animals. Caribou populations have been severely impacted by tar sands extraction. The Beaver Lake Cree First Nation has experienced a 74% decline of the Cold Lake herd since 1998 and a 71% decline of the Athabasca River herd since 1996.
Health ImpactsPotential: Malnutrition, Other environmental related diseases, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Occupational disease and accidents, Other Health impacts
Other Health impacts
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts, Militarization and increased police presence
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..)
Other socio-economic impactsMassive impacts to food sources
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (undecided)
Strengthening of participation
Development of alternatives:This is the first case of legal action over cumulative impacts. The court be asked for the first time to define what is considered too much development and where the line gets drawn.
BLCN Community has worked together to solarize community buildings.
New forms of distributed fundraising have been innovated by RAVEN and BLCN.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The Beaver Lake Cree Nation’s case is ongoing. No decision by the court has been made. The fight is nowhere near over. However, the mobilization among the Beaver Lake Cree Nation and their supporters can be considered a success. The hope is that through the legal battle, the BLCN will be able to deter further development and exploitation of their traditional land. Investors will ideally not want to put money into a project that has no guarantee and in result will withhold any future development on the BLCN territory.
This case will ideally work to set a precedent for oil development on First Nations land and encourage other communities undergoing similar injustices to continue their fight.
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Treaty 6, Government of Canada
[click to view]

Beaver Lake Cree Statement of Claim
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[3] Toledano, M. (2014). Indigenous Lawsuits Could Paralyze the Tar Sands.

[click to view]

[1] The Raven Trust. Tar Sands Trial: BLCN vs. Alberta and Canada.
[click to view]

[5] Kopecky, A. (2014). Game Changer

The Beaver Lake Cree have gone to court to challenge oil sands development. What if they win? AlbertaViews.
[click to view]

[6] Government of Canada, Natural Resources Canada. (2016. Oil Sands : Economic Contributions)
[click to view]

[2] Wohlberg, M. (2013). Beaver Lake case against oilsands to head to trial. Northern Journal.
[click to view]

[4] Morin, B. (2013). Federal and Provincial Governments Lose Appeal Against First Nation Oil Sands Lawsuit. Indian Country Today.
[click to view]

[7] (Smitten, 2018) Beaver Lake Cree Nation's legal action to stop oilsands is a move to real reconciliation. National Observer
[click to view]

[12] (Wikipedia, Beaver Lake Cree Nation)
[click to view]

[9] (Raven Trust, 2018) Tarsands Trial Legal Backgrounder
[click to view]

[8] (Simeon, 2017) Beaver Lake Cree Bring the Power of the Sun to Tar Sands Ground Zero. Raven Trust.
[click to view]

[13] (Berman, 2017) Canada's most shameful environmental secret must not remain hidden. The Guardian.
[click to view]

[10] (Indian Country Today, 2013) Federal & Provincial Governments Lose Appeal Against 1 Nation Oil Sands Lawsuit. Indian Country Today.
[click to view]

[11] (Lameman, 2015) Life above the Alberta tar sands – why we're taking the government to court . The Guardian.
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Video: Beaver Lake Cree Vs. The Tar Sands
[click to view]

Other documents

Oil/Gas Development on Beaver Lake Cree Traditional Land
[click to view]

Tar Sands Trial Flier Sourced from (
[click to view]

Solarized school in BLCFN Sourced from: (
[click to view]

Beaver Lake Cree Nation Traditional Territory
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Started by Anna Hughes, completed by Jen Gobby
Last update15/04/2019
Related conflicts
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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