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Alberta aboriginal band looks to social media for funds in oilsands fight

Crystal Lameman of the Beaver Lake Cree First Nation in Alberta poses for a photo as Native Americans, farmers, ranchers and cowboys rally to protest against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in Washington on Tuesday, April 22, 2014.

Alex Panetta/THE CANADIAN PRESS

An Alberta aboriginal band is hoping to fund a court fight against the province's oilsands regulator through a plea on the Internet and social media.

The Beaver Lake First Nation filed a lawsuit against the Alberta Energy Regulator this week. Band member Crystal Lameman is hoping to use a crowdsourcing site supported by environmental groups, which include Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, to raise $100,000 to fund the action.

Lameman also works for the Sierra Club.

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"I recognized that we need financial support," she said Thursday. "I do not represent my nation in any way. I'm just a citizen doing my part."

Using social media and the Internet to raise money for a cause is becoming increasingly popular. The U.S. web site Crowdrise has raised about $135 million since 2010 for charity.

Lameman previously raised about $33,000 in less than a month to help fund another of the band's court cases against the province.

"It's become sort of the way you raise both money and awareness at the same time," said Susan Smitten of the B.C.-based group Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs, which is also involved in the Beaver Lake effort.

"Social media has made that so much more accessible."

The trick to crowdfunding, she said, is generating a crowd.

"Attention spans are short," said Smitten. "Crowdfunding is getting crowded."

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The Beaver Lake appeal is being hosted on Smitten's group site.

Beaver Lake Chief Henry Gladue said he wasn't aware of the drive for funds, but he added the band will be glad of any financial support.

"We're a small nation," he said. "We don't have the funds for all we need to do."

Beaver Lake is just starting to get involved in the oilsands industry, he said, and doesn't have the revenues that some other bands do.

"We welcome a little bit of assistance. It's nice to have, for sure, but (the fundraisers) don't really have any say in our case."

Beaver Lake is one of two aboriginal bands that filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Alberta Energy Regulator after it denied them the right to speak at a public hearing on an oilsands project planned for their traditional lands.

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The regulator said the band hadn't proved that it would be directly affected. The regulator later cancelled the hearings after none of the groups that hoped to appear was given the right to speak.

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