First Nations Chief Allan Adam discusses the tar sands awareness tour with Canadian musician Neil Young and the health issues that communities face.
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
Representative members of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation recently participated in a cross-Canada concert tour with rock legend Neil Young. Their goal is to raise money and awareness about their legal battle against the expansion of the tar sands project which is affecting their homelands.
With us to discuss this topic is Allan Adam. He’s the elected chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, and he’s joining us now via his camera phone.
Thanks for joining us, Chief Adam.
ALLAN ADAM, CHIEF, ATHABASCA CHIPEWYAN FIRST NATION: Thank you for having me on board.
DESVARIEUX: So let’s first take a look at an interview clip with Neil Young while on tour about why he supports this cause.
NEIL YOUNG, MUSICIAN: I was hearing the stories. I saw that the cancer rate was up among all the tribes. This is not a myth. This is true. You can either believe me and the First Nations people or you can believe the oil companies and the Canadian government. And you’ve got to look at the motivation. Why would anybody say anything? Why would I say anything and why would the First Nations people say anything if there wasn’t something wrong? And then look at the motivation of the Canadian government and the oil companies that they’re working with.
DESVARIEUX: So, Chief Adam, we just heard Neil Young discussing the effects of spills from tar sands. And I know that you are located near the source of some of these spills. Can you tell us what health effects are being experienced by your people and the local communities there on the ground? And what proof do you have to directly say that the tar sands is responsible?
ADAM: In numerous years, in regards to what’s been going on with the activity upstream from the community of Fort Chip, we started to see rare cancers start developing in the small community of Fort Chipewyan. You know, there’s reports of 51 different types of cancers in the community. Thirty-nine of them were rare cancers.
And the most recent report that came out in regards to what’s been going on is that there is a high selenium content in the water source. And, you know, when that occurs in your water source, whatever, it’s in our vegetation, it’s in the wildlife, it’s in the fish, it’s in the ducks and birds and everything. The reports that came out were one with Dr. Schindler, that renowned Alberta scientist that deals with water issues and stuff like that. Another scientist, Dr. Timoney, also did another report in regards to the contents in the spills and everything that occurred on the Athabasca River upstream from Fort Chip. And the latest one we just did in regards to that is one of the researchers that we got from Winnipeg, Manitoba, and that conducted the research—and, you know, a lot of findings came out in regards to everything. It hasn’t been released at this point in time, but, you know, the way it looks is that there is a high volume of heavy metals found in our water source.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. And the Neil Young tour was called Honour the Treaties. Can you tell us more about the treaties that were being referred to and if the tar sands directly contradict those treaties?
ADAM: Well, in regards to when it says Honour the Treaties, we mostly say in regards to how industry and government consult with the First Nations when it has adverse effects to their traditional territories in question. More ways than one, we’ve argued the points that government officials, along with industry, collaborate with each other in deteriorating how the treaty was supposed to engage our discussions between nation to nation. And right now in the province of Alberta, what we found out: that Shell Canada got to write their own approval in regards to the water consumption of their usage in their tailings pond.
DESVARIEUX: And, Chief, I think it’s safe to say that not everyone was thrilled with the tour’s message. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s spokesman, Jason MacDonald, made a statement saying this: he said, quote:
“The resource sector creates economic opportunities, and employs tens of thousands of Canadians in high wage jobs, contributing to a standard of living that is envied around the world, and helping to fund the programs and services Canadians rely on.”
What would your response be to that, Chief Adam?
ADAM: My response to that is, sure, we could say that we support development. But at what cost do we have to develop this region? Because there is no sustainability, there’s no balance. It’s out of whack. The whole system is pretty much messed up. The regulatory system in Canada has been gutted to accommodate industry. And now we know for a fact that—you know, industry’s writing their own approvals, with the federal and provincial government rubberstamping them, is beyond ludicrous in other ways, because we have treaty rights that protect our way of life and that protects our living and our culture for years to come. If we don’t continue that, well, then, what good is it that we have all these rights and we have nowhere to practice them on?
DESVARIEUX: Yeah. And we should mention that the recently wrapped up four-city concert series across Canada raised a reported half a million dollars towards the legal battles against the expansion of the tar sands. What is next on the horizon for your tribe? Can you speak a little bit about the legal battles that you’re facing and what sort of actions you’ll be doing in the future?
ADAM: Well, right now industry and government are collaborating together in regards to making it a lot easier for development to occur in this region. They’re deteriorating treaty rights. They’re deteriorating aboriginal concerns. They’re voice—limited voices of the public interests in regards to all these projects.
So, therefore, you know, we as First Nations people have a constitutionally protected right under Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution, and we’re using those laws to uphold Canada to their responsibilities when it comes to aboriginal people in Canada. And, you know, when it really looks at it from a standpoint, Canada creates all these laws under [incompr.] and all these other different organizations through Environment Canada that stipulates the fact that what industry has to do, and yet Canada’s not even living up to their own laws. They’re breaching their own laws and are not being held accountable for it. And we as a nation, we have that obligation to take them to that task and hold Canada liable for their actions. And, you know, thus far, you know, Alberta is a province of the dominion of Canada, which is a corporation [incompr.] whatsoever. So, you know, however we look at it, there are rules that they have to follow, and these rules were created by their own system. And yet they continue to deplete and disregard their own laws. They tend to get whatever they want, because they feel that they’re above the law or whatsoever. We feel that nobody is above the law, not even Canada or the prime minister or industry in that matter, regardless of how good the economics come out of this area.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Chief Allan Adam, thank you so much for joining us.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.