Despite protests, gas exploration to continue on Thunderchild First Nation Sundance grounds

By Betty Ann Adam, The StarPhoenix, August 16, 2013

Protesters and supporters of resource development on Thunderchild First Nation gathered outside the Saskatoon Court of Queen's Bench on Aug. 16, 2013.

Protesters and supporters of resource development on Thunderchild First Nation gathered outside the Saskatoon Court of Queen’s Bench on Aug. 16, 2013.

A Saskatoon court has granted the Thunderchild First Nation a temporary restraining order against protesters who have been occupying a ceremonial site because they oppose seismic exploration in the area.

The exploration involves setting off explosive charges 15 metres underground, which protester Marilyn Wapass says is disturbing sacred ground.

“Chief and council were told by pipe-carriers I spoke to that they were not allowed to touch those lands or the valley surrounding that because that’s where they get the trees for the ceremonies,” she said.

Other traditional members of the First Nation disagree with the protesters and say they have no problem with the exploration.

“It’s not ripping down our sundance grounds, it’s not interfering with the lodges,” said elder Gladys McAdam, whose family participates in the sundance.

Friday’s decision at Saskatoon Court of Queen’s Bench prohibits protesters from blockading or preventing Tonare Energy from detonating the remaining 27 dynamite charges, which Justice Gerald Allbright said must be done to prevent their being accidentally set off and injuring or killing someone.

The matter returns to court next Friday.

The survey has already set off about 150 charges to determine if oil is present. If there is, and if the First Nation wants to drill for it, that will require another regulatory approval process.

The exploration builds on a program that began about nine years ago under a previous chief, but it has only recently become a divisive issue, McAdam said.

The First Nation is located about 100 kilometres northwest of North Battleford.

Wapass said she will continue to oppose the process.

“We will stand there and protect that ground. It’s very sacred,” she said.

Chief Delbert Wapass is a prominent advocate of First Nations taking ownership of the natural resource wealth on First Nations’ lands.

Band lawyer Chris Boychuk said there are oil wells around the reserve and the leadership wants to exploit the resource for the benefit of the entire band. Protesters say they have not been adequately informed of the process, but Boychuk said all required consultations and meetings have been done appropriately.

The chief and council consulted four elders from the reserve, who specified sundance areas that are culturally significant and which will not be disturbed, he said.

Marilyn Wapass, who came to court with supporters, was met by people who heard about the protest through social media. Several people said they didn’t know what the issues were.

Supporters of the exploration included four elders from the reserve.

McAdam said some protesters are relying on rumour, and suggested they talk to the chief and council to learn the facts.

Most of the protesters declined an invitation to meet last week with elders, chief and council and the company doing the seismic operation, Boychuk said.

“They’re not interested in actually finding out what went on, what the process was to get here,” he said.

Marilyn Wapass said she sent a representative to the meeting.

“We requested a band meeting where the whole community could come together and be made aware of the situation and understand fully the impact of what can actually happen as a result of everything that’s taking place there,” she said.

Thunderchild administration seeks injunction against members protesting oil activity

Grassroots Thunderchild First Nation members occupying sundance grounds vow to stop seismic testing

by Sandra Cuffe, Media Coop, August 16, 2013

Prayer flags from sundance grounds, torn down by gas survey workers.

Prayer flags from sundance grounds, torn down by gas survey workers.

The fate of the Thunderchild First Nation sundance grounds and the women and other band members who have been actively defending them may be decided in court this week. The Thunderchild administration is seeking an injunction against grassroots members protesting oil industry seismic exploration on and near the ceremonial area on reserve, located roughly 100 kilometres northwest of North Battleford, Saskatchewan.

Grassroots band members set up a protest camp on the sundance grounds in early August, in response to blasting, drilling and other activity onsite. The Thunderchild First Nation administration is now taking legal action in the hopes that the ‘Sundance 3D 2013’ seismic program work being carried out by Lorrnel Consulting on behalf of Tonare Energy can continue without anyone standing in the way.

The occupation of the sundance grounds will continue regardless of the outcome of the August 16 injunction application hearing, says Eldon Okanee, a Thunderchild First Nation member.

“We’re prepared to take a stand,” Okanee told the Media Co-op in a telephone interview. “You cannot have oil development at the expense of our sacred grounds.”

Okanee says the majority of band members were unaware of the exploration plans in and around the sundance grounds, where ceremonies have been held for generations. Some participants in a recent ceremony on the grounds noticed markers around the site. They were removed, but not long after the ceremony ended, a seismic crew arrived, he said.

But what really sparked awareness and indignation was the desecration of prayer flags and ceremonial cloth, torn up and strewn on the ground when contractors drove their equipment through the site.

“We were really shocked about that,” said Okanee. “The ceremonial cloth is where the prayers go.”

Women have organized and led the action since day one, gathering on the sundance grounds to prevent any further seismic testing or desecration in the area.

“The detonations were right within the sundance grounds,” said Okanee. A grassroots occupation has put a stop to the industry activity in the area for now. “We’ve been occupying the sundance grounds,” he said.

Thunderchild First Nation chief Delbert Wapass and council approved exploration activity on reserve lands by Tonare Energy, which received an Exploratory License from the Thunderchild band council on July 4, 2013. The Reserve 115B lands in question were originally designated for surrender to the Crown by Thunderchild in April 2005 for the purpose of oil and gas exploration under the Indian Oil and Gas Act, according to documents obtained by the Media Co-op. The First Nation owns an equity interest in Tonare, the Canadian affiliate of Kansas-based Kinley Exploration.

Participants in the occupation are not necessarily opposed to oil development in general, but vow to stop it on the sundance grounds. The current situation has caused divisions within the community, according to Okanee. Some people refrain from speaking out because they fear repercussions, such as losing jobs tied to the band council, he said. The elected leadership’s decision to take members to court and file for an injunction has also thrown people off guard.

“I think a lot of people are surprised,” said Okanee, referring to the legal action. He said the grassroots organizers have invited the Thunderchild First Nation chief and council to sit down and dialogue, but that no such meeting has yet taken place. Instead, band officials filed for an injunction. “A lot of people are upset at the lack of respect,” he said.

The injunction is being sought against three named band members and other unnamed individuals. The application will be heard by the Court of Queen’s Bench in Saskatoon (520 Spadina Crescent East), on Friday, August 16, at 11am.

Whatever the court rules, the grassroots members involved with the occupation of the sundance grounds vow to stand their ground.

“If there is [an injunction], then our group is adamant that we will not leave,” Okanee told the Media Co-op. “They’ll have to arrest us.”

Posted on August 21, 2013, in Oil & Gas and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Oil and gas exploration work should be encouraged, since it will help in making a country self-sufficient in meeting its energy needs. However, steps should also be taken by oil and gas companies not to pollute the surrounding environment.

  2. I’m impressed, I must say. Seldom do I come across a blog that’s both equally educative and interesting,
    and leet me tell you, you’ve hit the nail on the head.
    The problem is something that not enough people are speaking intelligently about.
    Now i’m very happy I stumbled across this during
    my hunt forr something concerning this.

  3. Actually, we don’t need more oil and gas exploration. Oil and gas industry is heavily subsidized, dirty at all stages of development and quite frankly, we should have started the conversion to alternatives back in the 1970s following the U.S. oil embargo like some advocated at that time like then President Carter.

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