Critical Mass Top 50, 2012

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Aaron Vincent Elkaim

avephoto.ca


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Aaron Vincent Elkaim

40 years ago the First Nations Reserve of Fort McKay situated on the Athabasca River in Northern Alberta had no running water, the people lived in shacks and there were no roads connecting it to the rest of Canada. Their primary income was derived from a traditional lifestyle of hunting, trapping and the fur trade. But as 83-year-old elder Zackary Powder puts it “Its not like it used to be, everything has changed.” Situated 63 km north of Fort McMurray, Fort McKay has watched as the world’s largest and most environmentally destructive oil extraction project, the Alberta Oilsands, has grown around them. With the futility of resistance evident and ingrained through a colonialist history the people of Fort McKay eventually decided to partner with industry. Entrepreneurial endeavors, employment and industry compensations have provided economic prosperity the likes of which few First Nations reserves have experienced. Here an inner conflict exists as they struggle to maintain their cultural values, land and traditions while simultaneously profiting off their destruction. With the land, air and water now polluted the health of the community is also beginning to suffer, with high levels of cancer, respiratory disease, and miscarriage. Here the people are facing a dilemma similar to the industrialized world; Mother Earth or economic prosperity and is there even a choice?