Email
Password
Remember meForgot password?
    Log in with Twitter

article imageCanada natives mourn loss of hunting, fishing in Fort McMurray fires

By Michel Comte (AFP)     May 10, 2016 in World

Chipewyan native Elmer McDonald putters around his trailer in a Lac La Biche parking lot and plays his fiddle since being evacuated as the Fort McMurray wildfires closed in on his tribal home late Sunday.

Several indigenous communities had taken in residents of the neighboring Canadian oil city forced to flee raging fires that have consumed more than 161,000 hectares of boreal forests.

But the reservations near or behind the battle lines have now been ordered evacuated too, including the Fort McMurray First Nation and the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, as the fires spread.

"Mother Earth is kind of upset, I guess," McDonald told AFP.

"They're fooling around with too much Mother Earth. Someone has to pay for it," he added, accusing the oil and forestry companies active in the region of polluting the land and waters, and stripping away at the ecosystem.

Map locating the wildfire around Canada's Fort McMurray
Map locating the wildfire around Canada's Fort McMurray
Adrian LEUNG, AFP

Seasonal fires are part of the boreal ecology, helping its conifers to reproduce.

As mature trees burn, the extreme heat causes their cones to open and release seeds, replenish regions devastated by the fires with new growth.

Burnt swaths also create natural barriers to new fires since they typically won't burn again for decades.

But in northern Alberta there is significant human activity -- a city, oil sands mining and forestry -- which has interrupted this natural cycle, according to natives and wildfire experts.

"There's been wildfires in the past but right now it's too dry. It has never been that dry before, due to climate changes," Chipewyan elder Fred Black said.

Evacuees react as they watch live footage from inside burned-out neighbourhoods of Fort McMurray on ...
Evacuees react as they watch live footage from inside burned-out neighbourhoods of Fort McMurray on a TV in an evacuee centre in Lac la Biche, Alberta on May 9, 2016
, AFP

"Our traditional ways was living off the land one time. But now, not only the fire, the oil companies, and the guys that are taking the trees make all that changing," he said.

This was the second time McDonald and members of his tribe have been forced by fire from their homes since the 1990s.

"This is nothing new to me, it's like war -- you finish one battle and start again," he said.

- Praying for rain -

Fellow Chipewyan evacuee Sheila Janvier, now staying at a Lac La Biche motel with a group of elders and children in her care, described a mad dash to get out of the reservation 140 kilometers (85 miles) north, including by two teenage girls on horseback.

She said she stood waist-deep in the nearby lake to pray for rain since arriving in town.

Donated shoes are offered to evacuees at an evacuation center in Lac La Biche  Alberta
Donated shoes are offered to evacuees at an evacuation center in Lac La Biche, Alberta
Scott Olson, Getty/AFP

Although her wish came true late Sunday, officials said the precipitation wasn't nearly enough to put out the fires.

"People lost a lot of things, but as long as people are safe, have somewhere to stay, have a roof over their head," she said.

"I think that's the most important thing of all. We might have lost material stuff, that's replaceable."

Officials reported Monday after Alberta Premier Rachel Notley toured Fort McMurray that 90 percent of the city was spared.

Sheila's sister Shauna, however, remains anxious.

"Fort McMurray was a place where we got our groceries, where we went shopping, I have a brother that lives out there as well," she told AFP.

"It touches home, it really touches home, and that's where we take care of everything. Now we are kinda stranded, and I want to go home. It'd be nice to go home."

Members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police monitor the fires around Fort McMurray in Alberta  Cana...
Members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police monitor the fires around Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada
RCMP Alberta, Alberta RCMP/AFP

Back at the trailer, McDonald was more concerned for the wildlife killed or displaced by the fire than infrastructure.

"The animals were probably caught in the fires, they couldn't escape fast enough," he said.

That won't stop Donald Janvier of Fort McMurray (no relation to Sheila and Shauna). AFP caught up with him at the Lac La Biche evacuation center, where he said he was still planning to go fishing and hunting this summer.

"It's quiet out there, you go hunting and fishing and trapping, all that good stuff, and you're connecting with the wilderness," he said. "It's so beautiful."

"Of course, now it will be a lot different," he added.

More about Canada, Fire, Forests, Oil, Emergency
More news from
Latest News
Top News