A health study by the Environmental Conservation Lab (that’s us!) at the University of Manitoba will be publicly released on July 7, 1:30 – 2:30 pm Downtown Courtyard Marriot, Edmonton, Alberta.
Chief Allan Adam stepped up this past weekend at the 5th and final Healing Walk to proclaim ‘when that report comes out, it’s going to blow the socks off industry and government.” Allan Adam is Chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, one of three Indigenous groups (along with the Mikisew Cree First Nation and Métis Local 125) residing in Fort Chipewyan located 300 km downstream from the Athabasca Oil Sands, the WAC Bennett Dam in BC, and other industrial development.
Archie Antoine (MCFN) and Dr. Stéphane McLachlan looking at a dried-up lake in the Peace-Athabasca Delta. Drying of the delta has expatriated muskrat and pushed residents of Fort Chipewyan away from a traditional diet.
Residents of Fort Chipewyan have long voiced their concerns about fast-escalating cancer rates, which most in the community directly attribute to upstream Oil Sands development. While still negotiating with the government for an extensive baseline health study, the community decided to take matters into their own hands and conduct their own health study with the input of University of Manitoba environmental health researcher, Dr. Stéphane McLachlan.
When asked to sum up the report in one sentence, Dr. McLachlan responded, “Many of the results, as they relate to human health, are alarming and should function as a wakeup call to industry, government, and communities alike.”
Fort Chipewyan is one of the most researched communities in North America, yet the relationship between scientists and the communities have left people feeling bitter and exploited. Almost everyone in the community has stories of scientists coming into town, collecting their data, and never being heard from again.
“Many of the results, as they relate to human health, are alarming and should function as a wakeup call to industry, government, and communities alike.”
Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Mikisew Cree First Nation have their own monitoring programs in the Peace Athabasca Delta because they are concerned nobody is adequately monitoring their environment. Pictured ACFN Community Based Monitoring team.
McLachlan says, “This is the first health study that has been conducted in close collaboration with community members of Fort Chipewyan. The results are grounded in the environment and health sciences, but also in the local Traditional Knowledge shared by community members. Unlike any of the other studies it has been actively shaped and controlled by both the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Mikisew Cree First Nation from the outset.”
Unlike other health studies conducted in the region, this work is holistic in approach and links results from lab tests on the environment and wildlife, to changes in local consumption of wild-caught country foods and to changes in human health and wellbeing. The study has documented changes in cancer rates but also other illnesses. It has also documented the factors that compromise adequate heath care in the region.
“The rapidity of the decline is arguably unique, and the continued lack of response on the part of the provincial and federal governments is irresponsible”
Jonny Courtoreille shows Dr. Stephane McLachlan some encroaching willow leaves in Wood Buffalo National Park.
“Communities are facing a double-bind”, says McLachlan. “On one hand, industry, including the Oil Sands, cause a decline in the health of the environment and ultimately of community members. On the other hand, the existing health care infrastructure is unable to address these declines in human health. The communities are caught in the middle, and the impacts are clear and worrisome.”
Although such environmental and health challenges face many Aboriginal communities across northern Canada, they are especially stark for this tiny fly-in community that has been thrust onto the world stage by the deep-rooted controversy surrounding the Oil Sands. “The rapidity of the decline is arguably unique, and the continued lack of response on the part of the provincial and federal governments is irresponsible” says McLachlan. “That has to change”.
The major outcomes of the results of this collaborative study will be presented by Dr McLachlan along with Chief Allan Adam of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Chief Steve Courtoreille of the Mikisew Cree First Nation. These media release will take place in Edmonton, Canada, on July 7 2014. Additional details will be sent out as they become available.
For media with an interest in the event, please see our Media page.
Michael Tyas is the managing editor of One River News. He graduated the University of Manitoba with an honours degree in environmental studies, and is a professional videographer and video trainer. He produced the feature length documentary "One River, Many Relations" in Fort Chipewyan. He continues to work with indigenous communities to share their stories around resource extraction, industrial development, and impacts on traditional territories.