Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Fort Chipewyan Takes Action in Edmonton

Note: Fort Chip is not a reserve, but a hamlet.

Reserve holds cancer rally

Sun. Mar 2 - 4:46 AM

EDMONTON — Janelle Vermillion owns a house in the tiny northern Alberta community of Fort Chipewyan. Her family, including her brother, still lives there. She considers it home.

But the 27-year-old woman says she will never again feel safe living there.

"I just want to move back home," she said, fighting back tears as she gestured to the pink-clad six-month-old baby in the stroller in front of her.

"But this is my daughter, and I don’t want to bring her back."

Vermillion was one of about 200 people who rallied on the steps of the Alberta legislature Saturday calling on the provincial government — whatever form it takes after Monday’s election — to pay more attention to rates of cancer and illness in the community 600 kilometres north of Edmonton.

Many people believe oilsands development and major forestry mills in Fort McMurray, which is upstream from Fort Chipewyan, have led to contamination of the water and wildlife in the region.

Emotions ran high as the crowd listened to stories from people who have lost loved ones to cancer. The community of 1,200 has seen six deaths in the past month. Some who planned to attend the rally were instead at home attending a wake.

"I left in 1960. I left everybody behind, and now they’re all gone from cancer," sobbed Elizabeth Kusiak as she listened to a song performed to honour the dead. She said she knows of six relatives who have died from cancer.

Concerns about the rates of illness in the community were first raised by Dr. John O’Connor after he arrived in 2001. O’Conner noticed an unusually high incidence of cholangiocarcinoma, a rare cancer of the bile duct.

"A population of 1,200, I constantly compared to my much larger practice in Fort McMurray. And, as time went on, I began to realize I appeared to being seeing stuff here that I shouldn’t be seeing in such numbers," he said.

"The various cancers, the auto-immune diseases, the number of people with diabetes, renal failure, hypertension, and then certain specific types of cancer — that really bothered me."


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