As Long as the Sun Shines

Ian Willms

2010 - Ongoing


Canada; 2010-2019

“As Long as the Sun Shines” zooms in on the daily, intimate destruction, which takes place in the shadow of an industry that’s large enough to be seen from space. The Canadian oil sands are the largest, most environmentally destructive oil development on Earth. Oil sands infrastructure stretches across Canada and disproportionately impacts Indigenous communities with environmental contamination.

Rare cancers, birth defects, lupus and other ailments occur at alarmingly high rates. Cholangiocarcinoma, an aggressive form of bile duct cancer which typically impacts 1/100,000 people annually has been diagnosed six times in the past 15 years in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, where the total population is 1,200.

Intense forest fires, driven by climate change, devastate the land that has yet to be impacted by industrial development. Traditional Indigenous economies of hunting and fishing have been decimated, leaving First Nation band members with few options for employment outside of the very industry that’s consuming their traditional territory. In Fort Chipewyan, locals will describe this process as a “slow-motion cultural genocide.” Meanwhile, the nearby oil industry city of Fort McMurray experiences unprecedented economic growth.

After decades of advocacy, the Indigenous communities of Fort Chipewyan and Fort McKay have yet to receive a comprehensive, public health study that is free of industry influence. The Canadian government refuses to act while people are dying, slowly, quietly, behind closed doors.

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  • A cut line through the Boreal Forest leads to an industrial glow on the horizon, near a Shell oil sands development, north of Fort McMurray, Alberta, October 26th, 2012. Canada's Oil Sands are the largest and most environmentally destructive oil development on the planet. The industry is consuming vast swaths of Boreal forest, impacting an area that is roughly the size of England.

  • Kanahus Manuel brings her niece Wasayka, 2, to the banks of the South Thompson River, in Shuswap BC. For years, many the Secwepemc First Nations people have been rallying to protect their water and prevent a new oil sands pipeline from being built through their territory. In 2016, the pipeline was formally approved by the Canadian government and construction began in 2017.

  • The kitchen table of a fur trapper's cabin, north of the oil sands mines, near Fort Chipewyan AB. Fur trapping used to be the primary economy of the Cree, Dene and Metis peoples of Fort Chipewyan. Today, the Oil Sands industry is the main employer.

  • Tanya Aviles serves cotton candy during Solidarity Day (National Aboriginal Day) celebrations at the local baseball diamond, adjacent to the Lanxess plant. The Aamjiwnaang reserve is surrounded by 46 petrochemical plants.

  • Malachi (centre) and his friends play ball hockey in Little Buffalo AB. The land surrounding Little Buffalo is filled with oil and gas developments. The town has been impacted by several oil spills in recent years.

  • A temporary water intake pipe, leads from the Athabasca river to an oil sands development. The process of separating crude from raw oil sands bitumen consumes three barrels of fresh water for every single barrel of oil produced.

  • Kendrick Cardinal shoots a caribou in the Northwest Territories. Caribou hunting used to be an essential way of life in Fort Chipewyan, but today, the herds have been displaced by industrial impacts and climate change. People from Fort Chipewyan must now travel for a week by snowmobile to attempt to hunt caribou. The journey is expensive, physically exhausting and dangerous.

  • The Boreal Forest south of near Fort McKay. The cutlines in the trees are from oil deposit exploration and industrial infrastructure.

  • Fort McKay First Nation band member Dez in his bedroom in Fort McKay AB. At seven years old, Dez had already endured two open heart surgeries after being born with a heart defect. Local doctors and family members of Dez believe that industrial pollution could be the cause of his condition.

  • Glen Henry of the Chippewas of the Thames waves his nation's flag, along with a Mohawk Warrior Society flag, on the steps of the Supreme Court of Canada, in Ottawa. The Chipewyas of the Thames v. Enbridge Pipelines Inc., sparked from opposition to an oil sands pipeline development, debated the duty of the Crown to consult Indigenous Peoples on industrial developments. The Crown won the case and the pipeline development was allowed to proceed.

  • An animatronic bird pf prey sits on a floating platform that is equipped with a strobe light, loudspeaker and a propane canon, at a Syncrude oil sands site north of Fort McMurray AB. This contraption and other like it are meant to deter migratory birds from landing in tailings ponds. Numerous cases of large numbers of birds dying in the ponds have been reported in recent years.

  • Aamjiwnaang First Nation members participate in the annual pickerel fishing derby on the St. Clair River. The waterway is a major shipping route for oil tankers and is heavily polluted by mercury contamination from nearby chemical plants. Locals sometimes joke that if you snap a pickerel by the tail, all the mercury will run to the head, making the fish safe to eat.

  • Warren John Simpson is comforted by a nurse and his family as he copes with a rare form of bile duct cancer known as cholangiocarcinoma, at Warren's home in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, Canada, November 16th, 2019. Warren died of his illness hours later.

  • Friends and family gather for Warren John Simpson's funeral at the local church, in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, Canada, November 20th, 2019. Warren died of cholangiocarcinoma, which is a rare and aggressive form of bile duct cancer.

  • Wade and Chelsea (at centre) say goodbye to their infant daughter, during her wake, in Fort McKay AB. Chelsea suffered a miscarriage five months into her pregnancy. Cancer, stillbirths, miscarriages and other serious health problems are prevalent in Fort McKay and Fort Chipewyan. Healthcare professionals have been sounding alarms over pollution levels from surrounding oil sands mines and calling for a comprehensive, public health study for many years.

  • Sisters Makenna (L), 7, and Mia, 3, play around their family's custom truck, in Fort McMurray, Alberta, September 6th, 2014. Their parents first came to Fort McMurray over a decade ago to work in the Oil Sands industry and quickly secured well-paying jobs.

  • After living almost his whole life around the oil sands industry, Michael Beamish was diagnosed with advanced thyroid cancer in 2016 and given 2-3 years to live. Here, Beamish uses a dust mask to protect himself from wildfire smoke and other pollution in Fort McMurray AB.

  • A Syncrude tailings pond is seen near Fort McMurray AB. At 1.5 trillion litres, the oil sands tailings ponds are the largest of their kind in the world. They house a liquid mix of toxic waste which contains dangerously high levels of mercury, arsenic, lead and benzene. Independent studies have found the the tailings ponds leak 11 million litres per day into the groundwater and Athabasca river.

  • Fort McKay First Nation band member Nadia Bouchier stands on land which used to be used for hunting and trapping by her ancestors. Today, it is surrounded by oil sands developments, which light up the night sky.

  • Burned down homes in Fort McMurray AB, following a devastating wildfire in 2016. The blaze, which was driven by climate change, destroyed 2400 buildings and led to the evacuation of 90,000 people.