Drilling, Dollars and Disease Down North
The discovery of oil-rich tar sands brought a modern-day gold rush to a remote stretch of Western Canada. But some locals fear that disaster may also loom beneath the surface.
Photos by Alex Nelson
Moose nose soup was not delicious. Needs salt, I thought, as I forced a swallow of the hot, fatty broth, but I was alone in my displeasure. The girl across the picnic table was slurping hers from its polystyrene bowl with concentrated enthusiasm. “What do you do here in Fort Chipewyan?” I asked, buying time, hoping no one would notice my slow soup consumption. “Mmf,” she said, and swallowed a large spoonful and cleared her throat. “I’m a nurse on the medevac helicopter.” Like just about everyone else, she was wearing sweats and a windbreaker, her long black hair tied up behind a pink visor in a loose ponytail. I peppered her with questions about her life — was she from here? Yes. Did she have a lot of family here? Yes, and a son. She looked like she was in her early twenties.
It was late August 2013, and I had just flown into Fort Chipewyan, a small and remote indigenous community in northeastern Alberta that has made international headlines for its often-contentio…