Bitumen Extraction, Indigenous Land Conflicts, and Environmental Change in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region, 1963-1993

  • Author / Creator
    Longley, Hereward
  • This dissertation examines the first development phase of the Alberta oil sands industry from the 1960s to the early 1990s. It draws on public and private records from archives in Canada and the United States, the results of collaborative research with the Fort McMurray Métis, and oral history interviews with members and administrators from Fort Chipewyan Métis, Fort McKay First Nation, and Mikisew Cree First Nation. It argues that conflicts between Indigenous peoples, the state, and the oil sands industry were rooted in an evolving system of control and regulation of land and resources, which marginalized Indigenous land use and encouraged bitumen extraction with limited environmental regulation. I show how bitumen exploration influenced the Dominion of Canada’s use of cartography, resource regulations, and Treaty 8 to extend sovereignty over the Athabasca region. The global energy and economic crises of the 1970s drove the Alberta Progressive Conservative government to invest in developing the oil sands, which created a conflict of interest that undermined environmental policy. Meanwhile, Indigenous peoples resisted the environmental destruction of bitumen extraction and fought for economic benefits. The Mikisew Cree First Nation, the Indigenous communities centered on Trout, Peerless, Whitefish, Loon, and Lubicon Lakes, and the Indian Association of Alberta used land claims processes to interfere with development to force government to guarantee Indigenous employment and resolve land claims. Bitumen extraction destroyed Indigenous environments and traplines, and the Town of Fort McMurray forcefully evicted the Moccasin Flats Métis settlement and other Métis and First Nation settlements. The Fort McKay community used an array tactics in the 1980s to resist the environmental impacts of bitumen extraction and negotiate new economic relationships with industry.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2021
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.