Clean-up efforts continue on James Smith First Nation

By Bryan Eneas
August 28, 2018 - 5:00pm

Two years after the Husky Oil spill and just over one month after the community filed for legal action against the company, crews were back out in the James Smith Cree Nation searching for remnants of the spill.

Shoreline Clean-up Assessment Teams are present in the Cree Nation, searching for oil which may be clinging to the shores or seeped below the sediments of the North Saskatchewan River banks.

James Smith Cree Nation Chief Wally Burns said he hopes to see the company go through the 14 kilometers of the North Saskatchewan River which runs through the community with a fine-tooth comb.

“Hopefully they’ll do a better job finding and marking where the contamination sites are,” Burns said.

Burns said the community bears the brunt of materials which float down the river based on the way the water flows and how the portion of the river which runs through the James Smith Cree Nation. As a result, melting ice flows in the spring time may be pushing more oil residue onto the river banks.

“That’s the thing people have to understand — what goes down the river, we get, and sadly to say, the little body that showed up and appeared in James Smith, that’s a prime example of what we get,” Burns said.

Debris piles, consisting of logs, rocks and plant matter contaminated with oil which once graced the banks of the river near an impromptu boat launch have, for the most part, been removed. Burns noted many piles were dealt with, however more debris piles line the river banks away from the boat launch.

Burns said Husky was present in the community both in good faith, and at request of the band. He said band members deserve to know what’s going on with their river.

A hunting, fishing, trapping, gathering and swimming ban was imposed on the stretch of river which runs through the community following the oil spill, which will remain in place indefinitely.

“I don’t think it will ever be lifted now,” Burns said. “If you were to bring in an independent person to do the testing of the water, you’ll probably have a lot of chemicals in that water, so why fish and gather and eat from that river now?”

He said the spill totally changed the diet for people within the Cree Nation. A hunter who recently scored an elk was forced to abandon parts of his kill because edible parts of the meat appeared sickly according to Burns.

The chief addressed the legal paperwork his band, along with other nations had filed against Husky Energy earlier this year. He said he wasn’t interested in the money which could possibly come into the community. Rather, he was more interested in ensuring Husky was held responsible for the oil spill and the subsequent clean-up efforts so future generations could benefit.

"As part of a commitment to James Smith we conducted a shoreline reassessment, mirroring the program we undertook last fall. This included the use of two dogs," Husky spokesperson Kim Guttormson said in an email to paNOW.


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