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Metis concered about expansion.

By Marie Burke

Windspeaker Staff Writer

ANZAC, Alta.

The Metis people of Anzac, Alta. have gained intervenor status at the Alberta Energy and Utility Board hearings on Suncor Energy's application to expand their oil sands operations at Fort McMurray, Alta.

The $2.2 billion expansion of Suncor, called Project Millennium, is undergoing regulatory hearings in which the Metis are calling for a commitment to the environment and jobs for their people.

Suncor wants to expand oil sands production to 210,000 barrels of oil by 2002. Suncor must have regulatory board approval before the second phase of Project Millennium can begin.

"This is a big step for a small Metis local," said John Malcolm, president of the Anzac Metis local. Malcolm feels the opportunity to speak to the issues at the hearings will result in a positive situation for the Metis. It's a chance to have a say in how the environment and the people will be affected, he said.

Many of the Aboriginal people in the area still trap for a living, he said. Several trappers told of the decreasing animal populations in the area at the recent Alberta Energy and Utility Board hearing, said Malcolm. He also said the fish coming out of the Athabasca River are no longer edible.

"This place is going to be a desert if we don't address pollution," said Malcolm. He is concerned about increased emissions from the stacks at Suncor settling on the land and water and what the long-term effects will be.

"Suncor has committed to help us with our concerns, but we have been neglected for 30 years," said the Metis president. The massive projects generally just roll through, but this time the Metis will be considered.

The issue of jobs is also something the Metis are concerned about, said Malcolm. Most of the jobs at Suncor where Aboriginal people are employed are not technical, he said. Suncor is promising to increase its number of Aboriginal employees.

"Anzac Metis are not opposed to the project. They do have major socio-economic concerns about their employment situation," said Mark Shaw, director of sustainable development.

In a statement about Project Millennium, the oil production giant has committed to ongoing consultations with the Metis and First Nations people in the region for as long as Suncor is in operation.

"Suncor recognizes industrial development has an impact on traditional hunting and trapping for Aboriginal people," said Brenda Erskine, manager of communications. The on-going consultations with Aboriginal people will address those issues, she said.

The environmental effects initiative of Suncor is looking at the cumulative effects of emissions, said Erskine.

Terms of reference have been completed by the Alberta Environmental Protection's regional sustainable development strategy and Aboriginal people have been identified as one of the stakeholders to ratify the strategy. The strategy will identify how to manage the cumulative environment impact of future oil sand development in the area. Erskine was not sure if the Anzac Metis had ratified the terms of reference.

Aboriginal business development, as well as employment, is the focus Suncor is taking, said Erskine. In 1990 there was only $2 million in contracts to Aboriginal people. In 1998 there is now a total of $21.5 million in contracts, she said.

"We have a clear commitment to increasing our Aboriginal workforce. We are sitting at over four per cent of our workforce being Aboriginal," said Erskine. A target of a 12 per cent Aboriginal workforce has been set for Project Millennium in the next three years.

Environment Canada will respond to the Alberta Energy and Utility Board hearings on Suncor's expansion with their own submission on Feb. 2 in Calgary. Suncor is expecting to begin the second phase of Project Millennium in April.
COPYRIGHT 1999 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Burke, Marie
Publication:Wind Speaker
Date:Feb 1, 1999
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