Cree trapper breathes ‘sigh of relief’ at cancelling of Teck Frontier mine project

Robert Grandjambe Junior dresses in his warmest winter gear, gasses up his snowmobile and takes off into the boreal forest of Woodland Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta.

One by one he pulls traps along his trapline.

March marks the end of trapping season.

Grandjambe has over 100 traps in the park; just 20 kilometres away from where the Teck Frontier Mine would have been built if approved in February.

Wood Buffalo National Park is where he spends all winter as a professional trapper.

“Having Teck as one of the largest mines in the area producing oil and toxins that are going to contribute to my way of life, it was very disturbing,” Grandjambe said while on the trapline.

But last month, Teck Resources pulled their application to build the mine. It would have provided thousands of jobs and bring billions of dollars into the province of Alberta.

All 14 Indigenous communities in the region signed benefit agreements for the project, including Grandjambe’s community, the Mikisew Cree First Nation in Fort Chipewyan.

“It was a sigh of relief, for sure,” he said. “It was close to my home, close to a legacy that I can pass on, whether it’s 30 years from now.”

His trapline will remain un-touched for now, but Grandjambe fears the deal has only been put on the back-burner.

“I think a company that spends billions of dollars into consultations, negotiations, doing all the leg work to just scrap a project as large as it is, it’s definitely not left off the table.”

For most Indigenous leadership, the project would have brought employment and economic opportunity for its members.

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Melody Lepine, director of government and Industry Relations for the Mikisew Cree has been working on negotiations with Teck for over a decade.

She said while there was shock and disappointment with Teck’s decision, lessons have been learned for future projects.

“We learned a lot in the past decade and now moving forward, with new projects and new opportunities, we will use this model as a template,” Lepine told APTN over the phone.

“We developed a new way of how we can work with industry and with governments.”

The remote hamlet of Fort Chipewyan is north of Fort McMurray, next to Wood Buffalo National Park.

It’s in the heart of the oil and gas industry, which Grandjambe has worked in for 15 years.

As an active trapper and former oil and gas worker, he said he knows first hand how projects like the Teck Frontier Mine can impact the water, forest and wildlife that inhabit the area.

“It’s very disconnected, what I do out here to what actually happens in offices,” he said.

“Having a giant mine in the vicinity of Fort McMurray and Fort Chipewyan is quite alarming on multiple stages of my existence, my livelihood, my children’s ability to be out in nature.”

After a full day out on the land, Grandjambe returns home with a handful of mink, marten and ermine; along with a sled full of traps, which will be set up again next season.

“You can’t be a trapper if there’s no animals that exist in the forrest. And that’s the bottom line,” he said.

“I’m not going to be able to sugar coat it for anybody. If that mine does go up, I have to find a new area to exercise my practices.”

Video Journalist / Calgary

Tamara is Métis from Winnipeg, Manitoba. She received a diploma in interactive media arts at Assiniboine Community College in Brandon and has worked as a videographer for CBC in Winnipeg and Iqaluit. Tamara was hired by APTN in 2016 as a camera/editor and is now a video journalist in our Calgary bureau.