Healing the land from oil is a matter of pride for Aboriginal people

Easy to access frog lake without realizing it. The landscape is similar to that of the surrounding areas and there is no large sign to indicate that you have arrived on First Nation land.

Driving through its many dirt roads, it’s hard to ignore the roaring activity. Vans, backhoes and bulldozers move between several decontamination stations.

In one of them, half a dozen workers are busy cleaning an old tank. Using pressurized jets, brushes and industrial vacuums, they remove every last drop of black gold before the structure is demolished.

The operation takes place under the watchful eye of Drayshawn Stanley. 20 year old young man frog lakeensures that safety procedures are followed.

He is one of 82 Aboriginal workers involved in the oil field cleanup project frog lakealso known by its Cree name, ayiki-sâkahikan.

It feels really good. We really feel like we’re helping our community,” he says. I feel that I am doing great things that will affect the future.

Drayshawn Stanley in work clothes and hat in front of abandoned oil wells in Frog Lake in October 2022.

Drayshawn Stanley leads one of the cleaning crews.Photo: Radio-Canada / Francois Joly

Since the program was announced in February 2021, more than 200 oil wells have been contaminated in the First Nation and nearly 60 areas have been completely cleaned up.

About 1 kilometer from where Drayshawn Stanley is working, another crew is backfilling the site with the original soil left behind. Just down the road, native plant species are being replanted.

At the provincial level, more than 4,100 demolition and rehabilitation projects have been funded on First Nations territory.

A tractor plows the soil with a backhoe against a backdrop of small trees in the Alberta prairie near Frog Lake in October 2022.

frog lakeThe province, located northeast of Alberta, accounts for about a quarter of the First Nations’ oil wells. The First Nation established its own oil company in the early 2000s. While the black gold has been a source of great wealth for the community, it has also taken its toll on the environment, as its leader Greg Desjarlais explains.

Many companies came frog lake earn and give up [leurs infrastructures] in place. »

quote from Frog Lake First Nation Chief Greg Desjarlais

In his opinion, if there were no major clean-up works Site recovery software.

Knowing you’re helping the environment and the nation at the same time helps keep you motivated, explains Drayshawn Stanley. We are returning the land to a time when we could live with vegetation, medicinal plants and wild animals.

Some of the elders never agreed to drill oil wells on First Nation territory. »

quote from Drayshawn Stanley, oil worker
Six abandoned oil wells in the Alberta desert near Frog Lake in October 2022.

Economic profession

Oil well cleanup has also created employment for some First Nations. He was one of the first to sign up for the training started by Joshua AbrahamsIndian Resource Council (IRC), a coalition of First Nations working in the oil industry. according toIRCMore than 300 First Nations members have completed this training.

Lake], raconte Joshua Abrahams. Je n’aimais pas cela à cause du salaire. J’ai une famille dont je dois m’occuper”,”text”:”Avant, j’étais juste un jeune qui travaillait au dépanneur de la station-service [de FrogLake], raconte Joshua Abrahams. Je n’aimais pas cela à cause du salaire. J’ai une famille dont je dois m’occuper”}}”>I was a kid working at a gas station [de Frog Lake], says Joshua Abrahams. I didn’t like it because of the salary. I have a family to take care of

Now he’s trying to get the old oil infrastructure out of his community.

When you become a father, you have the desire to take care of your children and provide for the needs of your family. I saw an opportunity and took it. »

quote from Joshua Abrahams, oil worker
Joshua Abrahams wearing a hat on the Alberta prairie near Frog Lake in October 2022.

Joshua Abrahams began working in the industry through the Site Recovery Program. Photo: Radio-Canada / Francois Joly

The field rehabilitation program has also enabled the launch of several Aboriginal environmental works and oil service companies. Without the program, my company would not have this opportunity– says Kevin Heck, the company’s president and CEOLeave Arrowheadthe company responsible for the work frog lake.

He founded his own company in 2020 with his brother Clayton. Their grandmother grew up in the community of Peepeekisis, Saskatchewan. She explains that her family lost touch with their roots after her grandmother went to an Indian residential school.

Kevin Heck squats in a plowed field in the Alberta prairie near Frog Lake in October 2022.

Kevin Heck in front of the field where First Nation-selected seeds will be planted.Photo: Radio-Canada / Francois Joly

As for Joshua Abrahams and Drayshawn Stanley, the project is not only a business opportunity for Kevin Heck, but also a chance to reconnect with his culture.

It helped launch many Aboriginal businesses, he says. They will continue to work because we have helped them acquire the skills that are in demand everywhere.

Four more years?

It is the provincial government that is managing the site’s rehabilitation program and has decided to allocate some of the federal money to Aboriginal projects. The total amount was 113 million dollars. The program is due to end in February 2023.

L’IRC however, it has been negotiating with Ottawa for several months to extend it and release an additional $300 million over four years. We think there’s a good chance [que plusieurs des entreprises créées depuis deux ans] They will disappearexplains Mark Taylor, now former vice-president of the Alberta Energy Board.IRC.

Oil companies will start doing business with non-Aboriginal entrepreneurs again, but if the program is extended for four years [les nouvelles entreprises autochtones] more likely to be self-sufficient. »

quote from Mark Taylor, former vice-chairman of the Alberta Energy Regulator

Both Ottawa and the province are jumping on the opportunity to fund a new round of First Nations cleanups.

Yellowed grass and trees with later leaves in the Alberta prairies in October 2022.

Private profit, public cleanliness?

However, the restoration program has been criticized by environmentalists and landowners’ rights groups since its inception. Alberta law stipulates that oil companies are responsible for cleaning up wells.

Taxpayers pay, not pollutersthe organization’s co-founder Regan Boychuk protestsAlberta Liability Disclosure Projecta group that advocates for the industry to fund the cleanup of inactive or abandoned oil wells.

He also believes that the needs in First Nations territory were significant, but that the oil companies had enough funds to pay for the work themselves. The latter achieved record profits this year.

It is more socially acceptable to do this process with First Nations and try to pass it off as reconciliation, but the problem remains. »

quote from Regan Boychuk, co-founder of the Alberta Accountability Disclosure Project

Under the field rehabilitation program, the companies that own the wells decide where to do the work. However, the money is paid directly to the contractor who does the work. When the well is located in a First Nation, the First Nation must also give its consent.

Regan Boychuk adds that closing a well does not mean the end of oil activity. To whom frog lakefor example, many idle wells will be replaced by horizontal wells, which cover a large portion of the subsurface with a single wellhead at the surface.

When asked, Mark Taylor admits that the demands of local communities are like social assistance to oil companies. It’s a root that seems effective in persuading companies to come and finish work on First Nations lands.he answers.

He notes that working in First Nations is against federal regulations in addition to Alberta law, and that building bridges and communicating with aboriginal communities can take a long time. As a result, the latter often fall last on the list of priorities when it comes to cleaning wells.

To whom frog lakecreated a real sense of pride among many staff members such as Drayshawn Stanley last year. We Aboriginal people have been trampled for hundreds of years. Life is hard for many of us, but now is the time to show our naysayers that we can do these things.he says.

Like many aboriginal Albertans, he wants his community to be among the leaders of an industry that has long ignored the demands of First Nations.

Kevin Heck, Joshua Abrahams and Drayshawn Stanley chat as they stand on a dirt road in front of a field near Frog Lake, Alberta in October 2022.

Left to right: Kevin Heck, Joshua Abrahams and Drayshawn Stanley.Photo: Radio-Canada / Francois Joly

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