Judge's Special Recognition
Freelance for Getty Images
"AS LONG AS THE SUN SHINES"
The residents of the isolated indigenous reserves of northern Alberta, Canada are watching their land become unliveable as their communities are slowly poisoned by the world’s largest and most environmentally destructive oil extraction project — Canada’s Oil Sands. Canada’s Oil Sands are the third largest oil deposits on Earth and are worth an estimated $1.7 trillion to Canada’s GDP over the next 20 years. This oil extraction involves an energy-intensive process of strip-mining and chemical upgrading. The liquid waste from Oil Sands production ends up in man-made tar lakes that are large enough to be visible from space. The Oil Sands have a larger carbon footprint than any other commercial oil product on Earth. Forecasts indicate that Oil Sands production will triple by 2020. The Oil Sands sit under an area of aboriginal territory that is the size of England and are connected to one of the largest freshwater systems in the world. In 1899, Treaty 8 was signed by the Queen of England and 39 First Nations in northern Canada. The signing chiefs were assured that their land, culture and traditional means of livelihood would be preserved and respected for “as long the sun shines, the rivers flow and the grass grows”. The indigenous bands who live off of the land in this region are already experiencing the impacts of the heavy metals and hydrocarbons that have poisoned their air, water, land and traditional food sources. According to local residents, cancer is now the leading cause of death in the region and other unexplainable health problems like miscarriages, lupus and skin abscesses have become increasingly frequent. The local traditional economies like fishing have been decimated by industrial impacts, leaving many residents with no other option but to work for the very companies that are poisoning their people. Today, the indigenous bands in northern Alberta are no longer able to sustain themselves off the land that has nurtured their lives for centuries.
A commercial fisherman throws a catch of whitefish to his sled dogs, in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, September 23rd, 2010. Pollution from industry has destroyed the local fishing economy in recent years.