Members of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation are against a proposed massive oil expansion project they say is in the heart of their traditional hunting grounds.
It’s also where the buffalo roam.
The buffalo had already been decimated in recent years by foreign hunters.
“It was hunter gaming outfits that (brought) in these high-paid international hunters to go and put their trophy on their walls,” said Lisa Tssessaze.
Elder Roy Ladouceur has been living off the land for half a century and said he witnessed the decline.
“The herds back then were anywhere from 200 to 250. Now it’s maybe half of that. 75 last recorded, last year,” said Ladouceur. “That would have been by hunters. But now they are scattered everywhere.”
Ladouceur has photos from 2015 when he came across a buffalo carcass.
Someone had decapitated it. Leaving all the meat to rot.
In 2016, the Alberta government made it illegal to hunt wild buffalo.
But now the buffalo are being threatened again – by oil.
Canada’s largest mining company, Teck, wants to open a large oil extraction site on what the Fort Chipewyan members say is right on the buffalo’s roaming area. It’s called the Frontier project.
“It’s in the heartland of the area we call Poplar Point homeland area,” said Tssessaze.
Ladouceur explains that the land Teck wants to use for the project is vital to the buffalo.
He says they can’t be disturbed if their numbers are to improve.
” When they do their rotational habitat summer travel. And to see fresh tracks of young ones, newborns. Well that is enough evidence to tell me that left alone, all together, give them four of five years, they will go right back to the numbers they had five years ago,” he says.
APTN contacted Teck for comment and they replied with a statement.
“We are committed to advancing Frontier in a manner that is respectful of Indigenous peoples and local communities; and is environmentally and social responsible,” the statement says.
Ladouceur says he’s heard that before.
“These animals are always there for the Dene people. First Nations people. That was always a First Nations ground,” he says.
The Frontier project is having final approval hearings in the spring. If successful, the project could get approval this year and construction begin in 2019.