Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

'It's killing us off'

Mon, November 24, 2008
'It's killing us off'
Oilsands development a danger to aboriginal community: Band member

Mike Mercredi, a community member of Fort Chipewyan, was on hand yesterday at Edmonton’s Native Friendship Centre to talk about the impact an oilsands development is having on his First Nations community.

Fort Chipewyan is facing a "genocide" from oilsands development, says a member of the First Nation.

"It's a slow, industrial genocide and Fort Chipewyan is a sacrifice," Mike Mercredi, 33, warned attendees at the Everyone's Downstream 2 conference at Edmonton's Native Friendship Centre yesterday.

Mercredi, who works for the band studying traditional land use, said after his speech that this is a case of history repeating itself.

"It was biological warfare with smallpox (after the European settlers arrived) and now we're almost facing that again," he said.

"We're facing another form of biological warfare and it's killing us off. It's genocide. They know it's there but they're denying it."'

Upstream from Fort Chipewyan, oilsands companies are busy mining the area around the Athabasca River.

Their sites are each allowed to release small amounts of waste into the water, which Mercredi says is collectively building up and devastating his tiny community of 1,200, located 610 km northeast of Edmonton.

Approximately 40 people attended the conference yesterday morning.

Put on by the Indigenous Environmental Network and Oil Sands Truth, the conference tried to highlight the impact of oilsands development on First Nations communities.

"We have got to create space like this to bring together all these different interests that, in our opinion, truly represents the majority," said organizer Clayton Thomas-Muller, an Ottawa-based tarsands campaigner with the Indigenous Environmental Network.

While the conference highlighted Fort Chipewyan, it also drew attention to the impact of an oil refinery being built near a First Nations community in North Dakota and the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Thomas-Muller said the effects of development are hurting more than just aboriginal populations.

"Anyone living below Canada's poverty line who can't afford $3,000 rent in Fort McMurray is going to be impacted."

But it's further north where Mercredi sees the damage. A former truck driver with Syncrude Canada, he said he quit a year ago when he realized he was part of the problem that was destroying the community he grew up in.

As a child, he said the community could go years between funerals, but now they are held almost monthly.

Since 1990, 108 people have died and Mercredi claimed much of it is being caused by chemicals in the water.

Studies have refuted that, but Mercredi said those studies never questioned the people who were actually sick.

He said Fort Chipewyan is a sacrifice to development and no one seems to care.

But he suggested the circumstances would be different if the river flowed south to Edmonton.

"There's only so much that people would say about a First Nations community and help out, but once it's in a capital city and people there were dying, it would be an epidemic."


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