A couple days later, as we travelled north, we had a picnic on the shore of Lesser Slave Lake. It becomes Lesser Slave River, then flows into the Athabasca River which continues its journey northward through boreal to tar sands and beyond.
A fishing boat launched while we were there. Several Filipinos were out fishing for the morning and two of the women shared with me that they had caught their quota of Pickerel and Pike (also called Jackfish). Because the water merges, these are two of the species that Athabasca River carries, along with Whitefish,Walleye, Burbot, Goldeye, Arctic Grayling, Perch, Ling Cod and others.
Today is another fish day. Celina, my Cree-Chipewyan elder friend will meet us in Fort McMurray and we will go out for a fish dinner. She loves fish! She grew up on lots of fish from the Athabasca River.
Her father and grandfather used to “put net” out where now (since the early 1960’s) the Suncor Bitumen Processing Plant is located beside the Athabasca River and about a 15-min drive to the reserve – downstream. For many years her people have not fished from the Athabasca because fish are consistently found with tumors, growth deformities, inner organ disease, cancers.
About 300kms north of the tar sands industry, the Athabasca River flows into Lake Athabasca. The Athabasca Chipewyan and Mikisew Cree (about 1200 people) live further downstream at Fort Chipewyan. Their traditional livelihood had depended heavily on fishing from Lake Athabasca. They have been telling us for years that the fish are “no good anymore.”
H2Oil is a 2009 documentary which includes voices from native people in Fort Chipewyan. Watch the H2Oil trailer and its reference to the fish: http://h2oildoc.com/home/
U of A scientist and professor of ecology, Dr. David Schindler, spoke at a 2014 conference co-hosted by the Athabasca Chipewyan and which I was able to attend at the end of May. These are two of his slides related to the fish and other wildlife in the lower Athabasca-Athabasca Delta.
I am witnessing to the fish today, their story with the river story, the great gift of nourishment they have given to us generation after generation – and to what is happening to them in this area.