Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Among Groups to Challenge Royal Dutch Shell at AGM

Yesterday, members of First Nations and environmental organizations from both Canada and the United States attended Royal Dutch Shell’s Annual General Meeting in The Hague, Netherlands, to speak out against the company’s high-risk energy projects.

Eriel Deranger, communications coordinator for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN), attended the meeting on behalf of the nation and spoke directly to Shell’s board of directors, focusing on the duty consult on the Jackpine Mine expansion project.

Deranger addressed the chair of the board to ask why a company that purports to put so much emphasis on stakeholder relationships has failed to address the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s concerns regarding tar sands development. The chair responded that the company felt the hearings for the Jackpine project were successful, but that it would open discussion on the issue with the president of Shell Canada, Lorraine Mitchelmore.

Other organizations, including Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL), UK Tar Sands Network and members of the Inupiat community of Alaska attended to question Shell on plans such as offshore drilling in the Arctic.

Deranger said she's pleased with the response from the chair of the board, but will continue to demand accountability. “We have a longstanding relationship with Shell that ties to business ventures and programs and projects Shell has run over the last ten years,” she said, adding that concern over the impact of tar sands has been growing over the last decade, causing the relationship to deteriorate.

She said the ACFN believes the only way the relationship can continue in a positive way is for Shell to make the nation a partner in all future development. She added that the nation’s demand to work with Shell has nothing to do with encouraging development or with revenues. “We want to be partners in the development so we can create a baseline for environment protection and protection of our treaty rights.”

ACFN has been pushing for Shell to agree to work with their traditional knowledge holders to do a full analysis of the impact of what the nation has termed extreme energy projects, but the company has refused. Shell has argued that there was no need to collect that kind of information because the data already exists. Deranger said that’s not good enough. “The data that’s been created has been inefficient and was not created by us.”

While she doesn’t have much faith in Shell’s promises, she’s heartened by the change in tone she saw between last year’s meeting and today’s.

“Last year they just really tried to brush me off, and this year they seem legitimately sympathetic.” Last year, Deranger asked similar questions about projects and the company’s failure to adequately consult First Nations. The board told her that her nation was an anomaly and that they should take up their issues with their government.

Deranger said the next step is to give Shell a chance to follow through on its promise to connect the ACFN with Shell's Canadian president.

“I think it’s a little bit of a wait-and-see, will they live up to their word,” she said. “I don’t have a ton of faith they will but if they don’t, they’ve just given us a bit of an upper hand by basically lying to us in front of their shareholders.” The AFCN have shown on more than one occasion that they aren’t afraid to take action if Shell doesn’t hold up its end of a deal.

“They’ve made promises in the past to our community that haven’t lived up to that resulted in us suing them.”

Any shareholder is permitted to attend the AGM and ask questions. Shareholders can also act as proxies to allow other groups to come. Friends of the Earth Netherlands acted as a proxy for the ACFN.

Deranger said it’s common in Europe to see activist organizations buying shares in companies who goals are otherwise at odds with their own as a means of accessing meetings like this one. Shareholder questions ran the gamut from environmental concerns to issues with remuneration, boom-and-bust scenarios and the fracking industry.

Deranger said attending the AGMs of corporations has long been a part of the nation’s strategy. “It’s always been a part of indigenous delegations at Shell to bring awareness to Shell’s bad reputation within indigenous communities,” she said. “We’re just one of many different indigenous communities globally that have been facing issues and damages from Shell’s projects.”

Image credit: Creative Commons L.C. Nottaasen, 2009

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Erin Flegg is a freelance writer and journalist, and her work appears in the Vancouver Observer, Xtra West and This…

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