'This should be up to the people': Hundreds protest provincial coal mining moves
CALGARY -- More than 200 Albertans made their voices heard during a massive coal-mining protest Saturday.
The Niitsitapi Water Protectors hosted the event along Calgary's Reconciliation Bridge to speak about the impact of expanded mining along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
It's a controversial subject in the province after the government rescinded a decade-old policy with no public consultation.
"The Alberta and federal governments are not listening," an event release read. "The Eastern Slopes are sacred to many and as treaty people it is our shared responsibility to protect the land and water from molestation at the hands of foreign mining companies."
Many on site aimed vitriol at the United Conservative government and its handling of the file.
The coal controversy began last May, when the province suddenly and quietly revoked a policy that had protected the summits and eastern slopes of the Rockies from open-pit coal mines.
It had been in place since 1976.
Facing a huge public backlash – including widespread international attention – the government restored the policy and its protections last month.
But in doing so, it failed to cancel exploration leases sold in the interim. At least six companies have been drilling and road-building on a landscape where much of Alberta’s drinking water originates.
Those at Saturday's event called the plan a "disaster."
“They're just playing word games here," Latasha Calf Robe told CTV News. "They're just trying to distract and deflect and we're not falling for it. First Nations are often left on the blunt end of these things, and we will be the most impacted by these mines.
"It is really important that we speak up now."
"There are a lot of compounding effects and a lot of compounding issues behind this," Blood Tribe councillor Diandra Bruisehead said. "When we talk about our stories, they don't stop, just like the water. We're going to remember this."
The water protectors have multiple issues with the current development.
Some have suggested the agricultural impact would be catastrophic, while others are focused on the area's water license market.
But it seemed most of the concern at the bridge protest was over potential impacts to the local ecosystem – one they believe is not the government's to touch.
Many of the protesters say the plans pose a threat to the area's land and water.
"I think both the provincial and the federal government need to be taking a long look at what the cost to the people and the landscape will be in the long term," Becky Best-Bertwhistle with CPAWS said.
"This should be up to the people of Alberta."
18,000 Canadians recently signed a petition tabled in the House of Commons asking the federal government to step in and assess the current development.
In Alberta, the opposition NDP has plans to table a private member's bill to "protect the slopes."
According to a statement, the proposed legislation would "stop currently planned changes to water allocations, including from the Oldman River Basin, and prioritize community, agricultural and ecological needs and health."
Alberta's government says it will be holding public consultations on expanding coal mining at the end of this month. Further details will be announced on Monday.
The office for Alberta's Environment Minister Jason Nixon denied an interview request for this story.
(With files from the Canadian Press)