“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.
As they did in the 1970s, the people of Fort Chipewyan have appealed to science for help. Then it was William Fuller, a biologist from the University of Alberta, who collected the data that proved the Delta was dying. Today, it is David Schindler, the winner of the Stockholm Water Prize, and a team of international scientists conducting painstaking research to find out what is in the Athabasca River – and where it is coming from.
Alan Adam, the chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, has worked closely with Schindler. He knows that vast areas of the Delta are once again becoming impassable because of falling water levels. This means the hunting, trapping and fishing rights guaranteed to his people in Treaty 8 are worthless.
He has appealed to elders like Pat Marcel and Francois Paulette from neighbouring Fort Fitzgerald to record the changes they are seeing in the water and the wildlife. In a unique exchange, science and traditional knowledge are coming together to challenge the oil sands.”
Read more: Aljazeera