Everyone’s Downstream

Written by Jocelyn

Topics: Frontline Communities

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The Alberta tar sands are the biggest oil development in Canadian history. Last weekend, I attended the conference “Everyone’s Downstream: Realities and Resistance” in Edmonton, Alberta to learn about resistance to unrestrained expansions of the tar sands among First Nations and to present lessons learned from our solidarity work with Grassy Narrows First Nation. My interest was to hear from First Nation leaders experiencing the impacts of tar sands. Too often, First Nations’ experience with huge industrial developments goes unreported but this conference provided a space for the First Nation voices to be heard by the numerous ENGO’s and local participants. George Poitras of Mikisew Cree First Nation presented a study done in his territory downstream from the tar sands. The study found arsenic, mercury and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) are on the rise in sediments of the Athabasca river which runs through the community’s territory where it accumulates in the Mikisew Cree’s traditional foods. Kevin Timoney, the report’s author, reveals that Dr. John O’Connor was the first medical professional to call attention to high increase of diseases within the community. Dr. O’Connor stated that high levels of bile duct cancers, colon cancers, lymphomas, leukemia, autoimmune diseases, thyroid cancers and overactive thyroids were seen in Fort Chipewyan patients. Chief Allan Adam of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation discussed the violation of his people’s Treaty Rights to harvest food in their territory. Beaver and muskrats are becoming scarce and looking unhealthy. Chief Adam also shared that in the past year his community buried 24 people from a population of less than 1500. After the conference, I traveled with a delegation from the Indigenous Environmental Network to Fort Mcmurray—ground zero of the tar sands development–to observe and learn about how the oil sand boom is impacting local communities and the region. Stay tuned for the second part of this fact finding trip….

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