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Alberta Tar Sands Destruction: Haven’t We Killed Enough Indigenous People On This Continent?

2011/06/24

With everything in my heart I said I don’t want the death of the Lubicon and Chippewayan Cree on my hands. Haven’t we killed enough people on this continent already?”

This was the question posed to a Republican Congress Person during a meeting in Washington, D.C. this week during the 2nd annual Citizens Climate Lobby meeting. Cathy Orlando, who asked it, is the leader of the Sudbury Citizens Climate Lobby Group and a Climate Project Presenter. Cathy’s day job is the Science Outreach Coordinator at Laurentian University.

Al Jazeera featured a story yesterday by filmmaker Tom Radford on Fort Chipewyan, one of the First Nations communities most severely affected by the tar sands:

I shot my first film, Death of a Delta, in Fort Chipewyan in 1972…Death of a Delta documented the fight of Fort Chipewyan to have a voice in the construction of a massive hydroelectric project on the Peace River, the W.A.C. Bennett Dam. At stake was not only the survival of the oldest community in Alberta, but the protection of a World Heritage site, the Peace Athabasca Delta, a convergence of migratory flyways and the greatest concentration of waterfowl on the continent.

In the David and Goliath struggle that ensued, David won. Water was released from the dam and water levels in the Delta returned to normal. The unique ecology of the region was saved. The town survived.

Today, that same David, the collective will of the thousand residents of Fort Chipewyan, is fighting an even more imposing Goliath. The Alberta oil sands is arguably now the world’s largest construction project. Its expansion will have an estimated $1.7 trillion impact on the Canadian economy over the coming decades. An area of boreal forest the size of Greece will be affected by industrial activity.

Once again the issue is water, but this time it is not just the flow of the river, but the chemicals the current may be carrying downstream from the strip mines and bitumen upgraders. In recent years, according to the Alberta Cancer Board, Fort Chipewyan has experienced an unusually high rate of cancer. Local fishermen are finding growing numbers of deformed fish in their nets. Residents and John O’Connor, the community doctor, worry there could be a connection to the oil sands.

Here is Radford’s documentary on the David and Goliath struggle Fort Chipewyan is in the middle of, To The Last Drop:

More links:

Citizens Climate Lobby Canada

To The Last Drop

Indigenous Environment Network

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