fish stories

DSC_7646native fish panelAt Athabasca Falls I read a panel about 14 species of fish known to live within the Athabasca River and the mystery of the Bull Trout which existed above the Falls.

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.

walleye_online sourceHere’s a photo (online source) of Walleye which is part of the Perch family.

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:

sick fish in AthabascaU 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.

Dr Schindler's summary 2014

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.


About the author: Maureen Wild, SC, M.Ed. is an international speaker, educator and retreat guide. Her focus is on Sacred Ecology – the weaving of spirituality, justice, ethics and Christianity with insights from new cosmology, ecology and contemporary theology.

5 comments… add one
  • Maureen

    It’s Sept 11th very soon. As we remember the destruction in New York it is fitting to meditate on the destruction to the Athabasca River and it’s impact on human life and the environment.

    • Sylvia Bellefontaine

      Maureen,what a blessing AND what a journey.
      Thanks for sharing.

  • Thank you Maureen and Meg for this powerful witness for the Wild—no pun intended! You are in our prayers for the journey. Grateful for your sharing. Traveling Mercies to you!

  • Beverly MacInnis

    Maureen and Meg, Thursday, Sept 11/14
    It’s wonderful that you are making time in your already busy lives to take this journey and share it with others. As you’ve said, the river and fish have their own stories. They also have an interrelational story
    within our evolving creation story. Thus, the way we respect the river, fish, surrounding air and environment effects all of creation. (We are especially reminded of global effects on this date.)

    Wishing you a ‘spirited’ and transformative journey.

  • Sometime in the 19, Caspar Salmon’s grandmother was invited to a gathering on the Welsh island of Anglesey, attended exclusively by people with fish surnames. Thirty years later, film-maker Charlie Lyne attempts to sort myth from reality as he searches for the truth behind this fishy tale.

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