I currently reside in Alberta, where the Athabasca Oils Sands are located. Albertans have only two opinions of the Oil Sands; they either love it or they hate it. The talk of Alberta this week is the article produced by National Geographic about the situation. Never in my life have I heard more vitriolic conversation. “It’s Propaganda!” has been muttered, “They make us look like child molesters!” is another. Decide for yourself.
One day in 1963, when Jim Boucher was seven, he was out working the trapline with his grandfather a few miles south of the Fort McKay First Nation reserve on the Athabasca River in northern Alberta. The country there is wet, rolling fen, dotted with lakes, dissected by streams, and draped in a cover of skinny, stunted trees—it’s part of the boreal forest that sweeps right across Canada, covering more than a third of the country. In 1963 that forest was still mostly untouched. The government had not yet built a gravel road into Fort McKay; you got there by boat or in the winter by dogsled. The Chipewyan and Cree Indians there—Boucher is a Chipewyan—were largely cut off from the outside world. For food they hunted moose and bison; they fished the Athabasca for walleye and whitefish; they gathered cranberries and blueberries. For income they trapped beaver and mink. Fort McKay was a small fur trading post. It had no gas, electricity, telephone, or running water. Those didn’t come until the 1970s and 1980s.