Woodland/Obsidian dispute continues

Woodland Cree First Nation Chief Isaac Laboucan-Avirom at the Woodland Cree camp.

Susan Thompson
For South Peace News

Police presence has increased in the Harmon Valley area as a dispute between the Woodland Cree First Nation (WCFN) and Obsidian Energy continues.

Obisidian has asked a judge to have Chief Isaac Laboucan-Avirom arrested and jailed for setting up what they consider a blockade limiting access to their sites.

In a May 15 press release, Obsidian CEO Stephen Loukas says, “It is currently difficult to see a clear path to a negotiated resolution of our commercial dispute with the WCFN. We reserve the right to pursue all legal means to restore the lawful operation of our HVS field, and may, without further notice, commence civil litigation against the WCFN and related parties for damages, including but not limited to, all foregone revenue on shut-in production.”

But Treaty 8 Chiefs from across the western provinces gathered in Peace River for a press conference May 16 to make it clear they will back the Woodland Cree.

“When it comes to jailing our chiefs, I think you will see a lot of chiefs…in jail,” says Treaty 8 Grand Chief Arthur Noskey.

“I think there is an uprising in the making,” he adds.

Local contractors like Weaver Welding, MDP Oilfield Services, Ruel Concrete and more have also parked equipment at the WCFN camp and continue to support it – despite Obsidian’s latest legal threats.

Edmonton-Griesbach MP Blake Desjarlais has raised the dispute in Ottawa, where he’s asked the Liberal government to uphold the Woodland Cree’s treaty rights.

“Trinkets and beads, Mr. Speaker. That’s what Obsidian Energy, an American company, has been willing to offer the Woodland Cree First Nation,” Desjarlais says.

“It’s a shameful display of colonial tactics that have plagued indigenous communities for generations.”

So far, RCMP have been reluctant to enforce the court injunction. RCMP have been staging at the Harmon Valley rodeo grounds, but K Division liaisons have been at the camp daily and say they would rather see a resolution to what they view as a contract dispute. They’ve focused on mediation between the energy company and the WCFN.

On May 23, Obsidian Energy employees and representatives from the Alberta Energy Regulator checked the tank farms and other sites behind the WCFN camp to ensure everything was operating properly, after being shut in for the better part of the past two weeks. The first stop was the epicentre of the earthquakes that rocked the Peace Region. The AER has ruled those earthquakes were the fault of Obsidian, but Obsidian is appealing the environmental protection order. A hearing is scheduled for this November.

AER representatives say they are neutral in the dispute between WCFN and Obsidian.

“Obsidian is changing the dynamics of industry, within our backyard and others,” says Laboucan-Avirom.

“There’s lots of good work to be done, but this is an example of how industry flips the narrative. There is also a lot of respectful industry out there. This is one bad actor, giving them all a bad name.

“I’m not looking for a handout,” adds Laboucan-Avirom. “I’m looking to just provide and to protect our own people, with our own ways and our own rights. We want to be part of the workforce. We want to develop megaprojects. We want to be owners of the resources. And you’re darn rights it is about money. My people shouldn’t be living in poverty.”

He continues.

“Our kids need a brighter future. Seven out of 10 of us are going to die sooner than Canada’s population. Seven out of 10 of our kids are in Child and Family Services issues. That’s because of our poverty. So how is this greed? It’s actually the other way around, where a greedy American company wants to come dictate on our land. I don’t think so.”

Laboucan-Avirom says the WCFN leadership is prepared to camp, “as long as the sun shines, the rivers flow, and the grass grows.”

But he also says WCFN still wants to come back to the table to seek a resolution with Obsidian.

“We want to start off with a clean slate.”

K Division police liaison at an Obsidian oilfield site May 23 as Alberta Energy Regulator representatives and Obsidian employees checked to make sure everything was operating correctly.

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One thought on “Woodland/Obsidian dispute continues

  1. “And you’re darn rights it’s about money”, says the Chief. This is extortion of lands not on their reservation, but leased to an oil company by the province. The revenue from this goes to ALL Albertans, not just Indigenous.

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