With constantly rising tensions between industry and the land and communities it affects, it is no surprise that many are struggling to understand and respond to their roles in what can be significant ethical dilemma. Last Friday, Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg invited One River, Many Relations’ Co-Producer Michael Tyas to help navigate these issues as a panelist in a public forum on the topic. The event was called “When Oil Dependency is Not Black and White: Contradictions and Possibilities. Michael was one of three panelists, and the stories from Fort Chipewyan he relayed made for an engaging discussion.
One of the panelists, a consulting engineer working primarily on Arctic Drilling projects advocated for continued improvement to extraction technologies, so that wells, pumping stations, pipelines, etc. can become continually more efficient, clean, and safe. The second, an ecological economist, called for a cultural and behavioural shift away from dependence on fossil fuels, motivated by the realities of climate change. Fort Chip’s story fit right between the two.
Michael described Fort Chipewyan as a community stuck between a rock and a hard place – it is economically dependent on an industry that has been shown to be harmful to its health. Michael pointed out that as much as the others’ perspectives may offer hope that can be worked toward, Fort Chip’s story shows the community to bear the burden of our society’s collective dependence on oil and emphasizes that its struggles are happening in the present, and will be present in the future too if something doesn’t change.
Drawing on the content of the film One River, Many Relations, Michael used Fort Chip’s responses to the Oil Sands industry as examples for the rest of society to follow. For example, more attention and respect needs to be given to the opinions and experiences of elders and land users. These are the people with the most first-hand experience on the land. So when they are noticing concerning environmental changes like many already have, government and industry regulators should listen and do something about it!
For many in the audience, the evening’s presentation shook up preconceived notions about the Oil Sands Industry issues being just black and white and left many realizing that it’s a lot more complicated than it may seem. This was just one of many events to come when the perspectives from One River, Many Relations (and the film itself!) will be shared with audiences across Canada. Keep an eye out here for more info!
The evening event was recorded and will be posted online. We will add the link here when it’s available!
Chris Klassen is the Communications Coordinator for the One River, Many Relations documentary project and contributes content to One River News as a part of that work. He studied International Development and Communications at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, MB and is happy to be contributing to the work of building future relationships between land, people, and industry.