The entrance to a tailings pond outside the Fort McKay First Nation, in June 2015. Photo: Brandi Morin / APTN

By Brandi Morin
24 June 2015

(APTN) – Just outside of the Fort McKay First Nation, sitting behind a chain-link fence is a dark lake dotted with scare-crow like structures dressed in bright orange suits and hard hats bobbing up and down in the water.

This is a tailings pond.

There are warning signs, “Danger” and “Beware” posted to discourage people from coming too close.

Every thirty seconds cannons fire warning shots to ward off birds from landing and drinking the water.

“My mom used to cry when we used to drive to Fort Mac,” said Cece Fitzpatrick, Fort McKay resident. “She would say, ‘It’s hard for me to live in this Earth now, because it’s being destroyed.”

Fitzpatrick has witnessed the landscape in the area change drastically throughout her 58 Years.

She said she feels like an alien in her own homeland.

“I feel like we’re being bulldozed. But they (industry) don’t care. We are just a handful of native people that they really don’t care about. … We as native people are supposed to care. The Earth is crying to be fixed. We need help.”

Elder Barbara Faichney grew up 25 kilometres down the river from Fort McKay. The river was once high and safe to swim in. The fish were fat and good to eat, but now those memories live on only in stories of times gone by that she shares with her grandchildren.

“I wouldn’t even put my little toe in it (the Athabasca River) because of all the gunk that’s floating in the water. I hate it. I think it’s so gross,” said Faichney.

Just across the river massive berms that surround the tailings pond can be seen. These tailings ponds are unlined, and hold toxic sludge left over from the oil refining process.

Environment Canada studies and industry have confirmed that millions of litres are leaking from these ponds every day.

In fact, potable water is trucked into Fort McKay because of high levels of carcinogenic chemicals in the local water supply.

“We were told we can’t linger around when we take a shower, we jump in and out within five minutes because that water is no good for us – no good for our skin,” said Elder Clara Mercer. [more]

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