Chief Allan Adam has played host to megastar Leonardo DiCaprio and director Darren Aronofsky, among other celebrities, and acted as their guide to the tar sands. Now, more than a year after he joined forces with DiCaprio in issuing an ice bucket challenge to former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Big Oil executives, the Athabasca-Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) chief has won re-election for a third term.
Now Adam can continue his years-long struggle to halt oil sands development on his nation’s territories, a remote stretch of subarctic boreal and waterways around Lake Athabasca in Alberta’s northeastern corner—lands seen by few outsiders.
“Chief Allan Adam continued to run on a platform for the protection and preservation of Treaty and Aboriginal rights, lands and resources," stated an ACFN media release dated Nov. 2.
"The ACFN leadership will be joined by councillors with a vested interest in education and employment, environment and economy, elders and youth, and preservation of Dene culture and lifestyle.”
Fighting the “filth” of oil sands
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Adam and his ACFN colleagues remain on the front lines against ecological destruction wrought by the tar sands. But arguably the most devastating critic of the industry came from halfway around the world in the form of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Arriving at Adam's invitation two decades after helping to free his native South Africa from apartheid, Tutu blasted oil sands development as “filth created by negligence and greed,” after seeing for himself the ruined landscape of northern Alberta during a visit to Fort McMurray.
Rock star Neil Young also joined the fray. After visiting the oil sands front line of northern Alberta, he slammed Harper’s Conservative government as “a very poor imitation of the George Bush administration in the United States, and it’s lagging behind on the world stage. It’s an embarrassment to any Canadian.”
During his Canadian ‘Honour the Treaties’ tour, Young played four benefit gigs to raise money for the ACFN’s legal fund.
This wasn’t Young’s first time in Fort Chipewyan, as he had previously visited with American actress and environmentalist Darryl Hannah, who is well-known for her condemnation of the Keystone XL pipeline.
If built, Keystone will transport oil sands crude from Alberta south across North America to refineries in Texas.
Birds keep falling from the sky
But the celebrity star power of Hollywood figures like DiCaprio and the moral gravitas of Archbishop Tutu has still not succeeded in saving the ACFN’s territory from ecological destruction.
In August, 30 great blue herons were found dead at a Syncrude mining site, prompting Adam to blast weak environmental policies that hurt not only his nation but all Canadians.
“We continue to pay the price. We see environmental issues come up in regards to wildlife and waterfowl that keep on occurring,” said Adam, who pointed the finger at government inaction in remarks quoted by the Edmonton Sun.
However, the ACFN chief apparently did not rule out oil sands development altogether, saying that the best way forward was an independent community-based oversight committee to ensure the interests of corporations, governing bodies, and local people in communities near oil sands extraction sites.