2011 - 2013
History, land, culture, and spirituality, these are the foundations of human identity. For indigenous people their history lies beneath their feet, where evidence left by their ancestors hundreds if not thousands of years ago remains. When they ask, “who am I” they look to the ground, the waters, and the forest around them; the land is their ancestral home, and within it their creator resides.
In Northern Alberta the ecological wealth of the Athabasca River provided for Native tribes long before European Colonization. Since 1778 the Athabasca was part of the main fur trade route from the Mackenzie River to the Great Lakes employing local Natives as fur Trappers. Today, the Hudson’s Bay Company is only a memory, replaced by the likes of Syncrude, Total, Shell, Imperial Oil and Suncor, formerly the Great Canadian Oil Sands, which on June 6, 1970, spilled 19,000 barrels of oil from a ruptured pipeline
into the river. 30km downstream the Cree, Dene and Metis people of Fort McKay fished to feed their
Oil has transformed this region of the Athabasca. Fort McKay First Nation resides 65 km north of
Fort McMurray and is surrounded by Oilsands development, collectively the largest industrial operation in
the world. With the collapse of the fur trade and a growing inability to live off the polluted land Fort
McKay had a choice. Work for the oil companies, or fall into a welfare economy that plagues reserves
across Canada. They chose the jobs and with them came an economic prosperity and government independence rare for First Nations communities.
My project Sleeping with the Devil examines the impacts of this transition on the community of Fort
McKay. Prospering within a system that is destroying their land, they struggle to maintain an identity that is becoming increasingly threatened as their historic values, spirituality and culture are traded for a standard of living most Canadians take for granted.