James Smith Cree Nation wants Husky to do right

UPDATE: Husky Energy has responded to James Smith Cree Nation's call for action.

"We are working closely with First Nations and downstream communities along the river and have been openly sharing the results of the testing program," Mel Duvall said in a statement from Husky Energy.

According to Husky, 4,000 samples have been collected from over 60 locations along the Saskatchewan River.

"This work is being overseen by a technical working group of engineers, environmental specialists, toxicologists, biologists and public health specialists, with representation from the Saskatchewan Ministry of the Environment, Husky, Matrix Solutions and the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health," Husky's statement said.

Husky is working alongside the Ministry of Environment as the incident commanders for the oil spill response team.


One month ago, Prince Albert witnessed first-hand the oil plume seeping through the North Saskatchewan River.

Now, it is James Smith Cree Nation's turn.

"We got concerned that it's going to bother us. The thing that really disturbed me was they said it wasn't going to come this far," Chief Wally Burns from James Smith said.

Water testing has been happening on a daily basis, according to Burns.

Burns said James Smith had to cover expenses out of its coffers in order to pay for oil booms and water testing.

"Every day we collect samples… We're doing this out of our own pockets," Burns said. "They set up two more booms, one on the other side of the river and one to the north of the river. From there we are going to be doing more soil testing as well."

Water and soil samples are being sent to an independent testing group based out of Calgary, according to Burns.

Six oil booms were set up along the riverbank, helping to catch tendrils of oil as the slick slowly spreads down the Saskatchewan River.

Notices went up in the community informing residents that they can no longer swim, hunt, fish, or gather along the river.

"It's very disheartening because it affects us in a big way. We strive on the river, we strive on harvesting big game. Our entertainment is fishing and some people go into the river (to do that)," Burns explained.

Walking down the shore, the first thing that stands out is a complete lack of wildlife. With the exception of a breeze, very little can be heard around the water.

"It's a totally different river today from a couple years ago. To me the life of the river is not there anymore," Burns said.

Burns said a few trappers who use the Fort a la Corne traditional grounds to hunt have approached him inquiring how they will be affected.

"It's too premature right now to say. We can't determine what animals are coming down to drink (from the river) and are going to be affected. They strive on the furs they sell," Burns said.

Burns said he has no idea how long the clean-up effort will take, as his community never faced an environmental disaster like this before.

"Especially with the oil, we don't know the amount of people we can get (working). It's going to be around the clock (work) monitoring and making sure no one tampers with the booms, nobody tampers with the soil," Burns said.

James Smith chief and council are meeting with Husky Energy, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, Environment Canada, and the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations to discuss how to clean the Saskatchewan River.

"The affected area, there was so much oil that was spilt that wasn't contained under the river. Every time the river moves it stirs it all up and it moves downstream to our community. To me, it's a sad thing," he said.

PaNow reached out to Husky Energy for comment but a spokesperson was unavailable before deadline.