By Shari Narine
FORT McMURRAY FIRST NATION, Alta.
(January 16, 2017) Thanks, but no thanks, says Bradley Calihoo, CEO for Fort McMurray First Nation, to any celebrity who wants to speak out against oil and gas development.
“We support ourselves, our own vision, our own mandate. We don’t need celebrities to speak on our behalf. We have a strong chief and council here that will speak on behalf of Fort McMurray First Nation,” said Calihoo.
Last week, Jane Fonda became the latest celebrity to make the oilsands tour to condemn oil and gas development.
Former Fort McMurray First Nation councillor Cleo Reece accompanied Fonda on her tour. While Calihoo refers to Reece as an “unbelievable community member” and says Fonda has the right to travel wherever she wishes, he isn’t as gracious about Fonda’s comments.
“It’s about Jane Fonda coming up here and really being undereducated really to the benefits and the impacts,” said Calihoo.
Through Christina River Enterprises, which is wholly owned and operated by Fort McMurray First Nation and brings in revenue through partnerships with the oil and gas industry, Calihoo says the nation is able to provide “world class services” ranging from education to health to new housing.
“It’s not a one way street. Yes, there’s impact. Yes, there’s environmental issues, but also there’s a lot of benefit to this region also,” said Calihoo.
“Undereducated” harkens back to comments made by another Academy award winner. In December 2015, Leonardo DiCaprio said in Variety.com that the drastic change in weather when he was filming The Revenant in the Calgary-area was “terrifying.” DiCaprio blamed the normal chinook weather in southern Alberta on climate change.
Speaking in Edmonton as part of a panel that was tagged #StopTheExpansion, Fonda said, “I’ve learned over the 50 years I’ve been an activist that it does help to be a celebrity, to raise the issue and get press to come when they might not come out and cover, it encourages the dialogue and debate.”
Lubicon Cree First Nation Melina Laboucan-Massimo, who is also an environmental campaigner for Greenpeace Canada, acknowledged the role Fonda played.
“I felt all the things I was doing, it didn’t matter how much I would talk about the issues, how much I would try to discuss and debate with the issues, I would go home and I would see the same thing over and over again,” said Laboucan-Massimo. “I’m so thankful that (Fonda) would come and stand with us, to lift up our voices, to create the dialogue that we need.”
Laboucan-Massimo called Fonda “one of our Elders.”
Fonda was also joined on stage by Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation Chief Tony Alexis and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation spokesperson Eriel Deranger.
Stephen Buffalo, president and CEO with the Indian Resource Council, is not sold on Fonda’s visit.
“It took gasoline, jet fuel to fly that helicopter she was riding around in. And if she looks in her own backyard in Beverly Hills, she will definitely see the activity that’s going on there. So, is it hypocritical? Maybe. But the message is clear: let’s be environmentally conscious and have a balance in the production and I think we can make everybody happy,” said Buffalo.
Bigstone Oilfield Services and Supplies office manager Mike Kortuem sees some value in Fonda’s visit. BOSS trains members from the Bigstone Cree Nation and places workers and equipment in the oilfield.
“Celebrities might garner more credibility if they arrived riding bicycles rather than helicopters and private jetliners!” Kortuem quipped.
“But to be honest, if people here were suffering of chemical poisoning like the people of Fort Chipewyan, I would invite any celebrity willing to rally to my cause … Albertans and all Canadians would do well to remember this: resource development can only proceed when it is done on a level that respects the land and the people of the land. That means not only reducing harm to the land, but also reducing harm to people, especially those who are reliant on the land. First Nations have always been stewards of that which sustains them and they continue to be such, regardless if they are working with development or fighting against it,” said Kortuem.