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Two First Nations prepare for fight with Ottawa over environmental concerns

OTTAWA, Ont. – Two Alberta First Nations are preparing for a legal fight with the federal government, as they ask the country’s court for a judicial review of parts of two omnibus budget bills passed in 2012.

The bands are upset with changes to the Fisheries Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act.

Under treaty obligations, the federal government is required to consult the First Nations before making any changes which will have an impact on them. However, the two bands say that never happened for the spring budget.

“The bills make sweeping changes as how our waterways and fish habitats are protected,” said former Chief of the Frog Lake First Nation, George Stanley. “They reduce how many projects (are) subject to environmental assessment. They allow the federal government to pass the responsibility of environment assessment over to the provinces.”

“What they’re doing is wrong,” said Steve Courtoreille, the Chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation. “They can’t ram bills down our throats and expect us to roll over and accept it, because this is going to affect our future (and) the future of Canada.”

Courtoreille added that bands must stand up for their rights, especially when it concerns the environment.

In the budget, the federal government passes on many environmental responsibilities to provinces, and Aboriginal groups are worried they will have no say in many future decisions.

However, the bands are not looking for these environmental changes to be completely cut, but they do hope a judge will force the Harper Conservatives to hold the consultations as originally planned, and then amend the laws based on the concerns of First Nations.