The fight over tar sands is definitely hotting up.

Britain’s leading “ethical” bank, the Co-operative will announce today that it is to help fund a legal challenge by the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, which claims the boom in dirty tar sands extraction is destroying their ancestral hunting lands.

The court challenge calls for an injunction to stop more than 16,000 permits issued by the Alberta state government and, if successful, could dramatically reduce or even stop the exploitation of this “dirty oil”.

Beaver Lake Chief Al Lameman argues the community had no choice but to take the legal action, after evidence began to emerge that caribou, elk, moose, deer and other animals were disappearing and infected with diseases, fish stocks were damaged by pollution in the water, and plants used for traditional medicine were under threat. “The impacts are very, very devastating sometimes,” he said. “We refer to the earth as our mother, the mother of all things.”

The case rests on a treaty signed in 1876 under which the Beaver Lake Cree gave up their ownership of huge areas of land, in return for a guarantee that “as long as the sun shines, the rivers flow and the grass grows, we can continue our traditional way of life”, including “traditional rights to hunt, fish, trap and gather for food and support”. However another clause in the treaty excluded land that may “be required or taken up for settlement, mining, lumbering or other purposes.”

In the Beaver Lake area, future extraction might not stop altogether, but would be much more tightly controlled “to the point it is not a danger any more”, said Lameman. “What we want is control over what’s happening on it.”

If the Beaver Lake case is successful, other indigenous groups could also mount legal challenges and oil companies could be hit with potentially “massive investment damages”, argues Paul Monaghan from the Coop. “If unchallenged, this trend risks making attempts to avoid dangerous levels of climate change almost impossible.”

Meanwhile, the industry and its allies continue to lambast their critics, even mild ones, in their quest to fry the climate. This month, the National Geographic, hardly a bastion of radical pinko-communism, ran a great and balanced article on the tar sands, called Scraping bottom. However Canada’s National Post called it a “little more than a glossy, seven-colour smear job on behalf of the environmental movement.”

“From the article’s title — “Scraping Bottom” — to its exclusion of any positive images or comments about the sands, it is clear from the outset that the editors are interested only in hardening their 50 million readers against Canada’s largest energy project.”

The Post vehemently objected to the terms “tar sands” and “dirty oil”. I wonder if their also object to terms like climate criminal too?