By Jake Cardinal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – Beaver Lake Cree Nation’s lawsuit against the Alberta government is going back to lower court to determine if the Nation will receive an advance from government to finance the current legal costs.
The band wants $5 million in advance from both the Alberta and federal governments, as the Nation has argued that it cannot sustain itself while paying for the legal fees associated with such a long legal process — to which they have already spent approximately $3 million.
The lawsuit was brought forth by Beaver Lake in 2008, over a decade ago, and claimed that the Crown has allowed so much development on the Nation’s traditional territory that it was impossible to exercise treaty rights and/or live a cree life. ‘
There are more than 19,000 development permits issued for the area — mainly energy development — and they cover about 90 per cent of the traditional lands, noted the lawsuit. The band alleges that they were never consulted properly or compensated for the development and the damage caused.
“There are multiple places we can no longer go to,” said band spokeswoman Crystal Lameman. “There are multiple examples of roads that are no longer accessible, trails that are no longer accessible, by way of lease pads or no trespassing signs put up by industry.
“There are species of medicines and flora and fauna that we can no longer find.”
Then last Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Nation could qualify for advance costs, however certain evidence would need to be presented. In order to receive advance costs Beaver Lake would need to prove that the costs of litigation, along with “pressing needs,” would be too much financial pressure on the Nation to continue with the trial.
“Pressing needs are not defined by the bare necessities of life,” the judges said in their ruling. “Rather, and in keeping with the imperative of reconciliation, they ought to be understood from the perspective of that First Nation government.”
Thus, the case was sent back down to the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench and is currently awaiting a trial to determine the First Nation’s finances.
In an interview with CBC, Crystal Lameman, a government relations adviser and treaty co-ordinator with Beaver Lake Cree Nation, said of the court’s decision, “Though the decision wasn’t a full win for the Beaver Lake Cree First Nation, we are taking it as a victory…This decision gives us solid ground to stand on when we go back to the lower court to argue for advance costs.”
Lameman then stressed that the $5 million asking-price is the bare-minimum needed to keep the case alive.
“If we were able to resource the case in the way it needs to be resourced, we would be way beyond that number,” she said. “We have so much more work to do to prepare for trial and we just don’t have the financial resources to do so. And we are continually met with appeal after appeal.”