Pay attention to “LARP” – the Alberta government’s “Lower Athabasca Regional Planning” exercise.
That initiative could have a lot to do with the future health, quantity and purity of the water we all depend on to sustain our lives – and other very important things.
The intent of the planning exercise is to determine how best to manage the Athabasca River and the land around it. It may well be a watershed moment in a time when the future of Alberta’s vast northeastern region, including the industrialization process of the oilsands development and how it is all managed, is set out.
The government of Alberta has decided to set aside 16 per cent of new land as parks and protected areas in the region. That is in addition to four per cent of protected area that exists, so in total 20 per cent will be protected – a very large amount of land. That is impressive!
Alberta Minister of Environment Mel Knight said the decision is “a good balance between human activities and the protection of the land.” In a nutshell, that comment puts in perspective the Alberta government’s philosophy and approach.
Albertans have some of the most beautiful parks in the world. It seems there are few who care as much for protecting certain areas of land, saving them pristine in a managed way “for the benefit of future generations” than Conservatives from Alberta. Their record of setting aside large tracts, particularly anything with outstanding or unique natural features is commendable.
However anything outside those protected areas is wide open for development, to benefit the main focus of Conservative Alberta, which is generating wealth through exploitation of resources.
That approach conflicts with the First Nation perspective, where careful thought and discussion is needed to ascertain priorities, and those must be in keeping with quality of life for future generations, before proceeding with any development.
The two seem unable to find a common ground.
A lot is made by First Nation Canadians about “being connected to the land.” The reality is, not many are. That is true more and more as time drives a wedge between the ancestral past and the modern world. It is all too easy for the seduction of today’s good life to render past values only cherished memories.
But there are still many First Nation communities who understand the value of that traditional way of life and chose to stay with it. Note the Slave River Journal feature this week (page 19) on residents of Sachs Harbor. Those people pick aspects from the modern society yet remain grounded in traditional cultural. They want the benefits of modern, material society, yet they sustain what is important from their cultural past, including that all-important connection to the land.
For the rest of Canada’s citizens descended from First Nation ancestors, in spite of the fact they may now live completely in the modern, material world, they often still identify with and understand, at least somewhat, what was so meaningful in that connection to the land. With that knowledge and the pride that is retained as a part of it, automatically comes a great respect for the planet that nurtures us. That is something – an essential element in all of what we do – so often missing in the rest of modern culture. If there were but one thing First Nation Canadians could teach the rest of Canada, that respect for the land alone, in the context of modern industrialization, would go a long way toward making our world and probably even more so the future world that we leave our children a better place.
In northeastern Alberta, and for all those who are recipients downstream, it has been the case that development comes first and anything in its way has to be scarified because generating wealth trumps all. After 50 years of that approach, one has to wonder at the point of the LARP exercise now.
The thinking of Alberta leaders must be changed. It is in their best interest to listen and understand, and improve – rather than end up defending their way in courts.
LARP should not be ignored. Otherwise it will simply rubber-stamp and further entrench the flawed situation that now exists. LARP should be used to send the message, strongly, of how things need to be.