Alberta launches Indigenous environment advisory panel

Indigenous people are going to have a greater say in Alberta’s environmental policy, the province said, after it formally established a new Indigenous Wisdom Advisory Panel (IWAP) in Fort McMurray on Wednesday.

Although similar advisory groups have existed in the past, Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said this is the first time Canadian legislation has enshrined Indigenous involvement in the monitoring process.

“Historically, we had an exclusion of voices and knowledge of Indigenous peoples who often are the most affected by industrial development of various kinds,” Phillips said.

The seven-member panel will provide the government’s environmental monitoring program with an Indigenous perspective, the minister said.

In May 2016, the province passed Bill 18, an Act to Ensure Independent Environmental Monitoring.

The new legislation meant the government was obligated to form an Indigenous advisory panel. It was also required to form an independent science advisory panel.

The act also brought the Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency (AEMERA) under government control and ensured environmental monitoring would be more rigorous, intensive and independent, Phillips said.

Melody Lepine, a new panel member and director of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, said for many years First Nations and Métis people in Fort Chipewyan weren’t consulted while oilsands development took place around them.

“All of our Indigenous communities are directly and adversely affected by oilsands development,” Lepine said. 

“Our environment has been changing very rapidly. There are many unknowns in terms of measuring these changes.”

Follow David Thurton, CBC’s Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitter or contact him via email.

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