The government's plan says it will look for opportunities to "engage these communities and invite them to share their traditional ecological knowledge to inform land and natural resource planning in this region."The Alberta government appeared to be taken aback Friday by the Athabasca Chipewyan response to its plan. Mark Cooper, a spokesman for Alberta Environment, said government officials met 107 times with 21 different First Nations and nine Metis organizations about the plan over the past three years. He said the plan had to carefully balance the need for industrial activity, job creation and recreational opportunities along with protecting the environment.
"In achieving that harmony, we need to take into account a number of perspectives and try to balance them the best that we can and that is what we believe we have done with this plan," he said.
"Every effort was made to balance all input with aboriginal people's constitutionally protected rights and treaty rights."
Cooper said the government will continue to consult with First Nations about the plan on issues including the management of oilsands tailings ponds and the need to protect biodiversity.
The plan goes into effect Sept. 1.
Athabasca Chipewyan leaders say by not including First Nations concerns in the plan, the pledge is nothing but lip service.
"We should be equals sitting at the table from start to finish not just called on when they need to give the optics that we've been consulted," Adam said.
The First Nation wants much larger protection zones for culturally significant wildlife, such as caribou and bison herds, and for the zones to be co-managed by the band.
The environmental think-tank the Pembina Institute has called the government's plan a good start, but has also said it is concerned the amount of land being set aside for conservation isn't enough to prevent endangered caribou herds from continuing to decline.
Cooper said Environment Minister Diana McQueen is committed to working with First Nations to make the plan work.