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The proud Cree and Dene First Nations people of Athabasca celebrate 25 years of healthy and productive growth

conTenTs • FALL 2013


Hear from the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations and the president of the Athabasca Tribal Council


We Walk Beside TheM

CEO Roy Vermillion looks back on the ATC’s first 25 years and its evolving relationships with the five member nations

13 TriBal TradiTions

Timeline of human activity in the Athabasca region; The role of a Tribal Council; History of Treaty Days

49 close The gap

The Education department’s top priority is to eliminate the gap between First Nations students and the rest of Canada

55 The perfecT JoB

The Employment and Training department is a prime player in helping potential First Nations workers find the right job

61 puT healTh firsT

Programs of the Health department are tailored to the region’s specific challenges

67 hope aT hoMe

Building stronger relationships takes time, practice and good examples. Child and Family Services helps

72 final Words

Strong regional partnerships are the key to the ATC’s prolonged success

FIRST NATION FEATURES 17 sTrong foundaTions

23 close To The land

Community leaders in Chipewyan Prairie First Nation don’t compromise when it comes to working with industry

30 old groWTh region

Unemployment in Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation isn’t as high as it once was. The Chief wants this trend to continue

36 legacy issues

There is a movement in Fort McMurray First Nation to address divisions that date back to Treaty 8’s early days

42 long TiMe coMing

The annual publication of the Oilsands Banquet

Fort McKay First Nation looks to the future for industry partnership with enriched traditional culture

Mikisew Cree First Nation’s Chief turned childhood anger into inspiration and now has big plans for his people norThern sTars


VENTURE PUBLISHING INC. RUTH KELLY Publisher JOYCE BYRNE Associate Publisher MIFI PURVIS Director of Custom Magazines JORDAN WILKINS Managing Editor CHARLES BURKE Art Director ANDREA DEBOER Associate Art Director COLIN SPENCE Assistant Art Director BETTY-LOU SMITH Production Coordinator BRENT FELZIEN, BRANDON HOOVER Production Technicians CONTRIBUTING WRITERS: Carissa Halton, Tricia Radison, Lisa Ricciotti, Scott Rollans, Séamus Smyth CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHERS: Pat Kane, Joey Podlubny


Northern Stars is the annual publication of the Oilsands Banquet, celebrating corporate and community leadership in Wood Buffalo. Northern Stars is published through a collaboration between Venture Publishing and Westbrier Communications. The 2013 honoree is The Athabasca Tribal Council. To be placed on a list to receive more information about the banquet and the organizations it supports, email: westbrier@shaw.ca

10259-105 Street, Edmonton, AB T5J 1E3 Tel: 780-990-0839 Fax: 780-425-4921

Celebrating strong, vibrant communities                                              Congratulations Athabasca Tribal Council on your 25th anniversary.


New ideas. New approaches.

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Welcome Messages


OR 25 YEARS THE ATHABASCA TRIBAL COUNCIL (ATC) HAS PROVIDED PROGRAMS and services for the First Nations communities in our area. As president of the ATC’s board of directors, I work with the Chiefs from the other First Nations that make up the ATC, and with the organization’s CEO, to establish long-term goals and objectives that will help achieve our vision of where we want to be in five to ten years. It’s up to us to identify the challenges in our First Nations communities and develop sound plans of action to address these challenges. The ATC’s staff throughout its various departments work hard to implement the strategic and operational plans we conceive together as a board of directors and on behalf of the board, I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for all their great work. Providing quality programs and services to First Nations people in the area is always a top priority for us. It is our intention to make the tribal council, our First Nation members, and our neighbours aware of our efforts to help communities become self-sufficient and to increase the overall quality of life for people in the region.

Vern Janvier, President of the ATC


N BEHALF OF THE ASSEMBLY OF FIRST NATIONS AND NATIONAL EXECUTIVE, it is my pleasure to offer greetings to all those attending the Athabasca Tribal Council 25th Anniversary Banquet taking place in beautiful Treaty 8 territory. As Indigenous peoples, we acknowledge and give thanks to the peoples and nations of the lands on which we gather. We acknowledge their contributions and we support their continued success. This is what the 25th anniversary celebration is all about – acknowledging the stewards of the land, their rights and their accomplishments, and supporting their efforts as they pursue economic opportunities and partnerships. At the same time we welcome non Indigenous peoples, and honour the unique relationship we share based on the agreements and promises made by all of our ancestors hundreds of years ago. By working together in mutual respect and mutual recognition, we fulfill the vision of our ancestors and together can reach our full potential as First Nations. I commend the efforts of the Athabasca Tribal Council and the many other Treaty 8 nations for driving change in their communities by establishing effective and meaningful partnerships respectful of their own community plans and visions. Congratulations on this 25th anniversary.

Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, National Chief, Assembly of First Nations

The annual publication of the Oilsands Banquet


We Walk Beside Them CEO of the ATC Roy Vermillion talks about the changing relationship between the council and the five nations it represents By Scott Rollans


Vermillion feels very privileged to play a role in the ATC’s mandate. “My interests, and all the work I do, evolves from being a First Nations person in this region,” he says. Vermillion sees himself not as the head of the ATC, but rather as a conduit for the collective efforts of the five First Nations that make up the tribal council. “Whatever happens at the tribal council starts with the direction provided by the First Nations leaders. The five Chiefs make up the board of directors. This makeup and direct involvement in the communities is what helps make the ATC a success.” The Athabasca Tribal Council provides advice and services for five First Nations in northeastern Alberta: the Athabasca Chipewyan First Photo: Joey Podlubny

ILESTONE ANNIVERSARIES provide an occasion for reflection as well as for celebration, and the Athabasca Tribal Council’s 25th anniversary this year is no exception. Roy Vermillion, who has occupied the CEO’s chair at the ATC since 2003, sat down recently to look back at the organization’s achievements over its first quarter century – and at the continuing work that lies ahead.

LOng-TERm LEAdER: As CEO, Roy Vermillion leads the exceptional staff throughout the various departments of the ATC. Both the ATC and its five member nations have come a long way since he started the position a decade ago.

25 yEARS: the athabasca tribal council


Photo: Patrick Kane

The ATC at 25

TEAM WORK: The ATC has a staff of 20 who oversee the various programs and services.

Nation, Chipewyan Prairie First Nation, Fort McKay First Nation, Fort ATC, the APCA wouldn’t have been as successful.” McMurray No. 468 First Nation, and Mikisew Cree First Nation (Vermillion’s Thompson points to the APCA’s many cultural retention initiatives – home community). As such, it represents the interests of more than 5,000 promoting participation in Indigenous Games, coordinating summer camps Cree and Dene people in the region. to bring together youth and elders, and sponsoring regional gatherings. “It That region is also home to the Athabasca oil sands, one of the planet’s pulled all of the five First Nations together,” she observes. “That was really largest industrial developments – and, for First Nations people, a provider important to everyone involved, that we incorporate and promote that of both opportunity and challenges. “There are more than 30 major oil cultural retention thread.” sands companies within the traditional territories of our five First Nations,” The APCA also devoted a lot of energy toward education and training. A marvels Vermillion. “With that comes a lot of development, a lot of growth, Sustainable Employment Committee was created to look for ways to keep and a lot of pressures – social, economic, environAboriginal people actively engaged in the workforce. mental – all kinds of pressures.” Vermillion is buoyed by the remarkable “The first thing they looked at was the labour pool,” For the better part of a decade – from 2002 says Thompson. “Who’s out there, and what backstrides made by the five First Nations through 2010 – the main avenue for dealing with grounds do they have? That was quite an extensive during the ATC’s first quarter century. those pressures was the All Parties Core Agreement project, because you’re managing five communities, (APCA). The APCA brought together the five First Nations, 17 representaall at great distances.” tives from industry, and the three levels of government (federal, provincial, That data helped shape the Aboriginal Skills and Employment Partnership municipal) to identify issues rising from development, and to create (ASEP), a five-year, $3.9 million joint venture between industry, the federal strategies to deal with those issues. government, the provincial government, the five First Nations, and the Métis Adele Thompson, manager of stakeholder and Aboriginal relations for Nation of Alberta. “It developed a program and strategies so we could employ Canadian Natural Resources, worked alongside Vermillion throughout all those underemployed people in the communities,” says Thompson. “It the APCA’s mandate. She saw first-hand the power of the tribal council to provided occupational training, on-the-job training, GED upgrading, some translate talk into action. “The ATC was pivotal,” she explains. “They were entry-level and sometimes more in-depth skill training.” really, really key in the whole operation.” The program, now called ASETS (Aboriginal Skills, Employment and TrainThe ATC’s contribution extended well beyond financial management ing) continues to prepare First Nations and Métis workers for meaningful jobs and administration, says Thompson. “Everything went through them. in industry. They disseminated all the information. They coordinated everyone. They Concern for the environment – no surprise – was the undercurrent to managed the ad hoc committees developed to manage the specific issues, APCA discussions and efforts, says Vermillion. “There was a lot of work done on such as employment, addictions, and cultural retention. Without the environmental issues, and trying to reduce the pressures, to reduce the pollution

The annual publication of the Oilsands Banquet

NortherN StarS

Photo: Courtesy Syncrude

that comes with the industrial development,” were talking about how the average household income in urban Fort McMurray he says. is $190,000. But I would think that the average household income of our First And, although the APCA’s mandate ended in Nations communities is about a quarter of that. Even though there’s lots of 2010, Vermillion says it laid the groundwork for money coming in, not a whole lot of it is going to our First Nations people. a more active and constructive ongoing dialogue There’s a need for some kind of mechanism to balance that.” Vermillion suggests between First Nations, government and industry. it’s time for federal and provincial authorities to recognize that need. “Revenue “It’s unfortunate that, for sharing in this region would help our First Nations the last three years, we There are large impacts on our First economically, and help them build stronger communihaven’t been involved on a ties,” he says. “Money is not the only answer, but it’s Nations – on our traditions, on our day-to-day basis,” he says. sure going to help.” communities, on the economic aspect, “However, our leadership Meanwhile, the ATC continues to grapple with on the health of our communities.” still comes together at social issues that have nothing to do with the oil the tribal council level, and they’re able to talk sands – for example, the enduring tragic legacy of Canada’s Indian Residential collectively about things like environmental issues Schools. Vermillion is circumspect about the ongoing impact Aboriginal and then bring it back to their communities.” communities face. “It’s probably going to take a few generations to deal with Even without the APCA, the ATC still has plenty that,” he says simply. on its plate, says Vermillion. “We’ve been at it for As the ATC heads into its second quarter century, Vermillion predicts that 25 years, but there’s still a large amount of work it will continue to provide a united voice for the five First Nations and their that needs to be done in several areas – education, chiefs. “Sure, there are a few little issues where not everyone sees eye to eye, employment and training, economic development, but they’re always able to be resolved, as leaders and as board members at and the environment. the ATC.” “There’s so much growth in this region, and so Looking back, Vermillion is buoyed by the remarkable strides made by much pressure that comes with growth,” Vermillion the five First Nations during the ATC’s first quarter century. “From when continues. “There are large impacts on our First we started up until today, there has been a vast improvement in all our First Nations – on our traditions, on our communities, Nations communities,” he says. “They’re all more organized. They’re able to on the economic aspect, on the health of our operate in today’s environment – with the outside world, the government, and communities. It’s not all good stuff that comes with industry, and all the other pressures that come with them.” large-scale development.” As a result, the ATC has become less of an advisor to the First Nations, To make matters worse, says Vermillion, First and more of a partner and facilitator. “Back in the 1980s, we were kind of Nations still aren’t reaping their share of the holding the hands of some of the First Nations. Now we’re able to walk benefits. “I was at a meeting just recently, and they beside them.”

Wood Buffalo Revival: Syncrude and Fort McKay First Nation have worked together to develop several wood bison habitats. Around 300 wood bison now graze on land reclaimed from oil sands mining and tailings operations.


25 years: the athabasca tribal council


Congratulations to the

Athabasca Tribal Council on Celebrating 25 Years

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Tribal Traditions

The Role of a Tribal Council Development in an effort give more power to First Nations over their own communities. Essentially, what the Tribal Council Program did was turn over the responsibility of administering government services in First Nations communities from the federal government to First Nations. The federal government still provides funding through Indian Affairs to each tribal council in order to enable councils to provide advisory services to its First Nation members. This also allows councils to deliver programs and services, subject to the agreement of its member nations. Many specific advisory services fall under tribal council administration. These include economic development; financial management; community planning; technical services; and band governance. Before 1984 these responsibilities fell under Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, but these days it’s the tribal

Photos: Patrick Kane

THE ATHABASCA TRIBAL COUNCIL PLAYS an important role in the lives of residents in its five member nations, but what exactly is a tribal council? Tribal councils are groups of First Nations communities that share common interests who voluntarily band together in order to provide advisory and program services to the member bands. Tribal councils don’t have as long of a history in Canada as First Nations do. The Tribal Council Program was established in 1984 by the federal department of Indian Affairs and Northern

The annual publication of the Oilsands Banquet



councils that are required to provide all five of these advisory services to its member nations. Funding for tribal council advisory services and administrative overhead is determined by a funding formula that takes into account the services delivered, the number of First Nations that make up the member nations of the tribal council, the on-reserve population of member nations, and the geographic location of the tribal council office. Tribal councils also enter into agreements with other federal government departments such as Health Canada and Human Resources and Social Development Canada on behalf of member nations in order to deliver programs and services to the communities it serves. Councils are required to incorporate under provincial or federal legislation and must maintain good standing in their corporate affairs to be eligible for continued funding. Chiefs or other representatives from member communities serve as a board of directors and oversee the provision of advisory or other common services to member communities. The main priority of a tribal council is its member First Nations. Councils can exercise flexibility in managing the delivery of advisory services or programs, consistent with the department’s responsibility to account for public funds. There are around 78 tribal councils across Canada providing advisory and program services to 475 First Nations. The Athabasca Tribal Council is one of nine in Alberta. There are around 135 First Nations across the country that are not affiliated with any tribal council, but 16 of these First Nations, with a population of 2,000 or more, also receive funding for advisory services. Approximately 80 per cent of the on-reserve population reside in communities where tribal councils or large unaffiliated First Nations provide advisory services.

11,000 – 9,000 B.C. Approximate first human habitation of what is now northern Alberta after glaciation. Some of the oldest inhabited sites in the Athabasca region are estimated to be more than twice the age of the first Egyptian pyramid


25 yEARS: the athabasca tribal council

Treaty 8 THE FIRST NATIONS PEOPLE OF WESTERN CANADA HAVE LIVED life on the lands since before recorded history. Hunting, fishing and farming were the ways of their world, and while the First Nations people had clearly defined territories associated with regional bands, the concept of land ownership was a foreign one. The social organization of the First Nations people consisted of interaction between bands for trading. Many of these bands were related to one another through marriage and kinship. Treaty 8 was the last and the largest of the 19th century land agreements made between First Nations and the Government of Canada. Signed in 1899 at various locations throughout what is now known as Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories, the Treaty 8 agreement covered over 840,000 square kilometers of land. This was an unprecedented land agreement as the total area of Treaty 8 is larger than France. Since that historic signing, the federal government has claimed that the Cree, Dene, MĂŠtis and various other First Nations peoples living within the Treaty 8 boundaries had surrendered any claim to title to all lands except for what was set aside as reserve land. However this claim has been contested for almost as long as the treaty has been in place. Many First Nations leaders have challenged this view, claiming instead that their people signed a nation-tonation treaty that not only recognized their rights to maintain a traditional way of life without restriction, but that also included rights to education, medical care, tax exemptions, immunity from military conscription and access to land, game and other resources for as long as the sun shines upon those lands. Over 100 years since the signing of the treaty itself, the context and meaning of the treaty and the treaty process remains hotly debated to this day.

1000 A.D.


Leif Ericson, son of Erik the Red, is the first European explorer to land in Canada.

A smallpox epidemic breaks out across northern Alberta, particularly affecting First Nations in the Athabasca area. It is estimated that the mortality rate among First Nations with the disease was around 95 per cent

1778 Peter Pond leads the first Europeans to the Athabasca area and establishes a post built on the Athabasca River nearly 100 kilometres upstream from Lake Athabasca


The North West Company builds Fort Chipewyan at Old Fort Point Lake Athabasca and Fort of the Forks on North Bank of Clearwater River on the opposite side of the river from modern day Fort McMurray to establish its prescience in the local fur trade www.atc97.org

Tribal Traditions

Cultural Celebration Nations member. Every year the Cree and Dene people of the Athabasca area would come together to receive this promised payment from the RCMP and Indian Affairs. Tipis were usually set up at the location and drummers and dancers would perform, celebrating the First Nations’ traditional heritage. Today traditional drummers and dancers are still a large part of Treaty Days, as are the RCMP, who honour the Treaty 8 agreement by giving out five-dollar bills to First Nations members.

Photo: Patrick Kane

EVERY JUNE, FIRST NATIONS IN THE ATHABASCA REGION CELEBRATE Treaty Days. The festivities held by Treaty 8 First Nations usually take place around June 21 to coincide with National Aboriginal Day, although every First Nation across Canada celebrates its Treaty Days at a different time. The aim of Treaty Days is to honour, celebrate and relive the culture and heritage of the First Nations people. Historically, the event evolved from a stipulation in Treaty 8 that requires the Canadian government to pay $5 to every First

TAKE FIVE: Part of the Treaty 8 agreement requires the Government of Canada to pay $5 to each First Nation member. This tradition formed the foundation of the Treaty Days celebration.



The Hudson’s Bay Company builds Fort McMurray on Clearwater River across the Athabasca River from NWC’s Fort of the Forks

2013 The ATC celebrates 25 years of providing programs, services and regional partnership for the five member nations

1889 The Government of Canada signs Treaty 8 at Fort Chipewyan and Fort McMurray recognizing the status of First Nations across 840,000 square kilometres in Western Canada. It was the largest treaty, by land, that the government had ever signed at that time

The annual publication of the Oilsands Banquet

Four years after the federal government implements the Tribal Council Program, the Athabasca Tribal Council (ATC) is established to represent the five First Nations in the region



Fort McKay First Nation

strong Foundations

Residents of Fort McKay keep their eyes on the future, without neglecting their living library of Elders By Jordan Wilkins • Photography by Patrick Kane


hile people in many First Nations might prefer not to be located so close to some of the largest industrial projects in Canada, Fort McKay First Nation, located 65 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, has always had a different outlook toward industry. Raymond

Powder has served on the Fort McKay First Nation’s council for the last four terms and, while he admits that industry does bring environmental challenges, ultimately the Fort McKay people are better off because of the economic stability of the band. “The most important thing for us is to build our community and become independent,” Raymond explains. And Fort McKay is well on its way to addressing both. Raymond stands proud as he points to different areas of the Fort McKay community. Some are existing accommodations like the

PERFECT ViSion: The goals of Chief Jim Bouchier and his community have always been the self-sustainability DaniEllE KiRKwooD, Syncrude. of Fort McKay.

The annual publication of the Oilsands Banquet

northern stars


river-front administration building; others are McKay shouldn’t have to leave for any of these services,” Raymond explains. empty now but will soon be home to more facilities And it applies to residents of all ages. The next generation is important to for Fort McKay people. Raymond and the rest of the community, which is why he says the band places Raymond says that the main focus of the band, an emphasis on its youth. In 2011, Fort McKay opened its youth centre to go under the leadership of Chief Jim Bouchier, is to along with its wellness centre. Both are aimed at providing a safe environment increase self-sustainability in the community. where children and youth have the opportunity to reach their full potential. Its approach includes a variety of programs and “Our self-worth is important to us and we want to foster that self-worth in initiatives. Fort McKay each and every child,” Raymond explains. “We pride has its own kindergarten ourselves on our sustainability. We are way ahead in to Grade 8 school as well Under the leadership of Chief Jim the region.” In fact, the Fort McKay First Nation has as the Dorothy McDonald an entire sustainability department geared toward Bouchier, the band aims to increase Learning Centre, a maintaining environmental stewardship, especially as self-sustainability in the community. satellite campus of it relates to local industry. Raymond says sustainability Keyano Collage that allows adult learners to is part of Fort McKay First Nation’s tradition of building relationships with obtain their Grade 12 equivalency. Also located industry for the betterment of its people. in the Dorothy McDonald Learning Centre is the Raymond admits that all of these programs and facilities and the overall band’s own health centre, which includes family advantageous position Fort McKay First Nation is in comes directly because physicians, therapists and a lab for blood testing. of its relationship with industry. “Industry is a challenging situation for us,” he Raymond says in the coming years Fort McKay explains. “In many situations, they are our adversaries, like when it comes to the First Nation hopes to expand its health services environment. But, a lot of the time they are our partners too.” These partnerto include dental, optometry and pharmaceutical ships amount to hundreds of millions of dollars to Fort McKay First Nation every practices. “The idea is that the people of Fort year. Through either its own Fort McKay Group of Companies or joint ventures,

Fort McKay First Nation

the First Nation supplies everything from catering services to heavy equipment to oil sands producers. The Fort McKay Group of Companies dates back to 1986 and is fully owned and operated by the community. The group was created to share in the wealth of the oil sands development and it serves everyone from the oil sands, pipeline, and forestry industries to the public sector. Though these companies and ventures allow Fort McKay First Nation to use Own Source Revenue – that is, money that Fort McKay raises on its own through business and resource revenue – for the majority of its operating budget, to Raymond’s grandfather Zachery Powder, development has affected the land. Zachery is 85 and he’s lived in Fort McKay his entire life. “I was born here and I’ll die here,” he

The annual publication of the Oilsands Banquet

Through The Years: Fort McKay First Nation is a different place than it was during Zachery Powder’s childhood. says. “I was brought up in the bush here.” He is grey-haired and the ropy veins show on the back of his hand that grasps his cane. People around here tell stories that paint a picture of Zachery in his youth, tracking big game in the bush and fishing from the Athabasca River. He continues to emphasize the importance of living the traditional way. But Zachery’s transformation into a less-traditional way of life parallels Fort McKay today. Zachery says the area looks quite different than it did during his childhood. He lived in a log cabin, not at all like the hundreds of new houses that have popped up in the community over the last decade. Like his grandson, Zachery takes great pride in pointing out areas around the community, but instead of new facilities he points to areas that used to be completly covered by dense forest and wild game. “The old days were the best,” he recalls. “But it was very different from today. If my father didn’t kill a moose, then we went without meat for a while. My father taught me everything too; that’s how we passed on our traditions and history.”

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Glory Days: Every year Fort McKay First Nation plays host to a weekend of Treaty Days events and festivities.


25 years: the athabasCa tribal CounCil

Fort McKay First Nation is made up of Cree and Dene who have for generations hunted, trapped and fished along the Athabasca River. They were largely nomadic, but when the fur trade industry started booming, the Fort McKay people started settling near trading posts. The community of Fort McKay itself dates back to 1820 when the Hudson’s Bay Company established a post near the present-day site. Fort McKay was originally part of the Fort McMurray No. 468 First Nation, but disbanded in 1942. Growth in the region remained stagnant from that time until the oil sands industry began mining in the area following the construction of the Suncor plant in the 1960s and then the Syncrude site in the late 1970s. In 2004, Fort McKay First Nation signed the Treaty Land Entitlement Settlement Agreement that saw 23,000 acres of land in the area transfer to the First Nation and while 8,200 acres containing natural resources will eventually be used to further strengthen the economy, 10,000 acres were set aside to preserve traditional practices. This preservation is important to Zachery as he feels it’s up to him to pass on the culture of the Fort McKay people, as his father did before him. “I’m not going to be around forever, so I have to make sure that our history survives.” His grandson Raymond agrees and, while it may seem like he spends most of his time looking forward, Raymond can speak his native tongue fluently and can recite his band’s history with ease. He adds that the Elders Centre acts not only as a great care resource for Elders in the community but also as a resource to share and educate the community on the band’s past. Honouring your heritage is something that Raymond says is vital to the success of any First Nation, adding that it’s every bit as important as planning ahead. “You absolutely have to focus on who you are as a First Nation,” Raymond says. “But you also have to make sure that your First Nation benefits going forward.”


Chipewyan Prairie First Nation

Close to the Land In Chipewyan Prairie First Nation, community leaders don’t compromise when it comes to working with industry By Martin Dover


Photography by Joey Podlubny

HIEF VERN JANVIER OF CHIPEWYAN Prairie First Nation is barreling down the road toward Chard, the First Nation’s largest community. He’s just received word that his new ceremonial headdress – a wolf’s head – is waiting for him at the band office. It’s been a long road from the bush camps of his childhood to leadership of the First Nation, but he has earned respect locally and regionally, among peers and in industry.

Janvier knows the careful balance involved with leading a First Nation community in the 21st century. As the Chief of the Chipewyan Prairie First Nation for the last five years, he and his people continue to honour their Dene heritage and keep in sync with the traditional values of their ancestors. But Janvier also recognizes that it is his duty to lead his people and put his community in the most advantageous position possible, meaning that relationships with industry are a must, despite some of the negative effects industry occasionally brings. “Finding that balance has been one of Vern’s mandates since he became Chief,” explains Kevin Coulsen, band manager of Chipewyan Prairie

For the trIbe: Chief Vern Janvier found success in the oil and gas industry, but it’s his goal for every member in his band to have the opportunity to succeed.

The annual publication of the Oilsands Banquet



First Nation. “He seeks opportunities for our First remote location was via rail or horseback but eventually, after the discovery of Nation that don’t contradict our traditional values. the oil sands, highway infrastructure brought more activity to the region. Still, Vern isn’t afraid to put up a fight if he has to, and Janvier remembers what life was like for his people before all the development. that’s what makes him such a great leader. BalancHe has fond memories of camping as a child. Back then, the area was accessible ing opportunity with industry and our heritage is a mostly on foot and by horse. Janvier and his family used horses to haul supplies struggle that he knew would be challenging, but he to camp. It was challenging as it was rewarding. The horses would often get knows how important it is.” It’s a fine line – one that stuck deep in mud, and Janvier and his father would have to tie two more horses Janvier has been walking nearly his entire life. to the train and start pulling them out of the mud, ultimately saving their lives. Janvier’s father was once the Chief of the It was a world drastically different from the one Janvier entered when he left Chipewyan Prairie First Nation. His grandfather, for Fort McMurray to attend high school in his teens. Much like he thrived in too, was a leader in the the conditions in his childhood, Janvier community. From an early age, After a lifetime spent in the oil and gas continued that momentum post-graduaJanvier and his eight siblings tion. He took a job at Syncrude where he industry and on the land, Chief Janvier is were taught the values and still optimistic about his community’s future. stayed for several years before moving on to history of the Chipewyan work in the natural gas industry. In 1998 he Prairie people. He was taught to hunt and live off started C.P. Services, his own oil and gas services company, which still provides the land. And although the community looks quite everything from pipeline maintenance to plant shutdown services in the Wood different than it did during his childhood, Janvier Buffalo region. still makes a point to head out on the land Although Janvier found success in the private sector, partnering with as often as his hectic schedule permits. some of the major players in the oil sands industry, he has never forgotten his The native land of Chipewyan Prairie First heritage. He is meticulous about any traditional procedures. He can’t hide the Nation is located about 100 kilometres southeast excitement he has about the new wolf headdress, but Janvier refuses to don it of Fort McMurray. For years the only access to the until all the proper ceremonies and rituals have taken place. Once he’s satisfied

NEXT GENERATION: Chipewyan Prairie First Nation’s youth are important. That’s why Janvier strongly supports programs like DiscoverE, held in partnership with industry and the University of Alberta.


25 years: the athabasca tribal council



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that traditional routines have been performed in a way that would honour his grandfather, he’ll wear the wolf with pride. In Dene culture, the wolf represents duality. It’s a symbol of fierce desire for independence and also the representation of a loving and gentle nature. The double path is something that shows up in Janvier’s own life, as he balances his private enterprise and relationship with industry with his duty to his people. “He’s one of the leaders that I have huge respect for,” Coulsen says. “He cares about each individual and treats everyone fairly and equally.” For the most part, his grandfather would be proud of the Chipewyan Prairie community of today. The last five years have seen conditions in Chard, the First Nation’s largest community, improve drastically. Most of the main roads are now paved and there are new playgrounds for children in the area. The First Nation’s new band office is an upgrade from the previous one and features classrooms for Keyano College courses and a great hall for community events. Janvier attributes Chipewyan Prairie First Nation’s optimistic situation to its relationship with industry over the years. Before he became chief, his predecessor invested money in six joint venture companies to develop the economy of the First Nation. The investment was successful and business took off. Janvier has continued this mandate over the years, with an aim to further the financial gains of his community.

He says that Chipewyan Prairie will never answer to the oil companies, but if industry wants to hire someone to build a road, clear trees or rebuild a lease site, his people should be the ones who are paid to do it right. Janvier has told Coulsen that there is a balance that must be faced between

WILD HORSES: During Chief Vern Janvier’s childhood, a lot of his transportation was done on horseback before development brought paved roads to the community.


25 years: the athabasca tribal council


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the economic driver of oil sands development and respecting the Chipewyan Prairie First Nation’s way of life tied to the environment. He believes that it’s important to demonstrate this to the next generation. One of his primary focuses is on youth in his community. He believes it’s essential to teach children the old ways, and also to instill a strong work ethic, responsibility, a smart business sense and pride in their community. One youth-driven initiative that Janvier is particularly proud of is the DiscoverE program in partnership with the University of Alberta. DiscoverE is a student-delivered initiative run out of the Faculty of Engineering that focuses on fun, accessibility and mentorship to deliver programs about engineering, science and technology through high-impact classroom workshops, clubs and events, and engaging summer camps for kids in locations like Chard. To Coulsen, programs like DiscoverE are more important than just the educational aspect they present. They bring hope to people in the First Nation. “The biggest change I’ve seen recently is the positive attitude and feeling of pride in the community,� he says. “That’s a difficult struggle for a lot

of First Nations people across Canada. Through Vern’s leadership he’s shown our people that we can accomplish whatever we want. There’s a sense that the path ahead, although difficult, is the right path. People feel strong about their opportunities for success.� Still, both men will admit that no matter how much you teach the traditions and culture to the next generation, the way of life of their childhood is largely gone. It’s a situation that offers both positive and negative effects on life in the community. For one, when Janvier heads out on the land for some R&R, he doesn’t rely as heavily on horses. Instead, he’s often behind the wheel of The Undertaker; his off-road mud-racing truck. Janvier suspects that the increased land use in the region has affected the environment. He recalls a natural spring near Chard. His grandmother used to prepare tea for visitors of the community with this water as it was well known for its nurturing qualities – people would come for miles to taste it. Today the water is a murky brown and tastes of iron. And the game is scarcer than it was. But, after a lifetime spent in the oil and gas industry and on the land, Janvier is still optimistic about his community’s future and its ability to balance industry relationships and environmental stewardship. Nearing Chard, Janvier’s instincts ensure that he never misses an opportunity to connect with nature. Driving at 60 kilometres an hour, he still manages to spot and excitedly point out the blueberry bushes in the thick brush at the side of the road. He also rattles off the medicinal qualities of other plants and roots in the area. He pauses and points out a moose. On the far side of a lake, the animal appears no bigger than a pencil tip. His grandfather would be proud. – with files from Joey Podlubny

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Old Growth Region Unemployment within the historic Athabasca Chipewyan lands isn’t as high as it once was. The Chief wants this trend to continue By Martin Dover


Photography by Patrick Kane

s Chief AllAn AdAm wAlks ArOUnd The banks of Lake Athabasca in the Fort Chipewyan community his focus is never far from the land across the lake. It’s Treaty Days and many of the Athabasca Chipewyan people – his people – are in Fort Chipewyan celebrating. Adam is wearing a traditionally-decorated rawhide vest for the occasion but, to him, this celebration is a double-edged sword. Instead of celebrating in Fort Chipewyan, which lies on Mikisew Cree land, Adam wishes that his people were celebrating on the other side of Lake Athabasca. Numerous peninsulas, beaches and islands dot the opposite shores.


25 yeArs: the athabasCa tribal CounCil

As Adam looks to the horizon, his eyes linger on one particular site – the original land of the Athabasca Chipewyan people. Very few of his people actually reside on their native land. Instead, most either live in Fort Chipewyan or have left the region completely. A couple years ago Athabasca Chipewyan granted 28 cabin packages on its reserve land, a monumental first step according to Adam, but still just the start of what he feels needs to happen. “We have made attempts to get back on our land and now it is gradually happening,” he explains. “We still need to push for a lot more in the future because that land is our lifeblood. It’s part of who we are.”


Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation

ON THE HORIZON: Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation is taking the first steps in returning to their traditional land. The annual publication of the Oilsands Banquet

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Athabasca Chipewyan’s reserve land remains largely undeveloped due to its proximity to Fort Chipewyan. Fort Chipewyan is one of Alberta’s oldest European settlements and was founded 1788 by the North West Company, playing a predominate role in the fur trade. As that industry grew, so did Fort Chipewyan, causing more and more Athabasca Chipewyan people to migrate to the community and abandon their native land. Adam hopes to reverse this cycle. He says the top priority of his council is to continue pushing to establish a community on his people’s land. “We are trying to create The industry taking place affects sustainability and growth,” everyone,” Allan Adam explains. “And not he says. In order to do that, just the people directly around it, either. Adam knows he’ll need to Our lakes and our rivers are used by lots of build a stronger relationship people so when industry disrupts them, with industry on behalf of we all feel it.” his people but says that it’s difficult because of the environmental challenges that often come with development. Adam says that, in the last decade, his people have been contracting new illnesses that haven’t traditionally impacted them. It began with a few people getting sick, but now he says new illnesses pop up each year. He says that this is most likely due to industry’s affect on the water downstream from the community. His solution: the Canadian government needs to tighten its regulatory system, developers need to be held more accountable and the original inhabitants



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of the land need a louder voice. “The industry taking place affects everyone,� he explains. “And not just the people directly around it, either. Our lakes and our rivers are used by lots of people so when industry disrupts them, we all feel it.� Still, Adam isn’t entirely opposed to industry; he just feels that there needs to be a stronger relationship between everyone involved to ensure that development is done responsibly. He says he has been working at building these relationships over the last five years and, because of that, unemployment within Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation isn’t as high as it once was. He wants this trend to continue, and he wants his people to work, supporting themselves in their own community as opposed to leaving the region. It will make Athabasca Chipewyan a stronger First Nation, he says. Besides creating jobs, it’s important for his council to ensure that his people receive the proper training and education. Currently, most Athabasca Chipewyan youth in the area attend a kindergarten to Grade 12 school in Fort Chipewyan but Adam believes that his people should have access to specialized training for trades and other professions, something that students currently need to leave the area in order to achieve. “Education is one of the key factors of our First Nation,� he explains. “Some of our people have graduated and gone on to become doctors and lawyers. It’s great, but they obviously have to leave to get that training. Even for the trades to work in the industry they have to leave. We should be able to offer that in our own community.�

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ACTIVE RETIREMENT: Janet Voiageur-Dashcavich returned to the Fort Chipewyan area for her retirement and teaches local youth about their heritage.



AthAbAscA chipewyAn elder JAnet VoiAgeur-dAshcAVich went to school in Fort Chipewyan as a child, but her school also didn’t teach her any special training. She is standing outside what remains of her old residential school. “The pathway seemed a lot longer than this,� she recalls, pointing to remnants of the school. “Everything seemed a lot bigger.� She smiles when she talks about her early years in Fort Chipewyan, remembering how much more wildlife there used to be. There were even more insects then. “There haven’t been many bugs this year; not like there used to be,� she laughs. But when she sees what’s left of the old residential school, she seems a little uneasy and her memory isn’t quite as clear. It’s as if she’s not as interested in remembering certain things. “It really feels like I’ve lived in two different worlds in my life.� Like so many of her classmates and the rest of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Voiageur-Dashcavich left Fort Chipewyan at a young age. She spent most of her life in Edmonton, working in the oil patch and in sales but, when she retired two years ago at 65, instead of heading south she decided to return to Fort Chipewyan. “This is where my family is from,� she explains. “The Elders are taken care of here, we are treated really well. Here, everyone looks out for one another.� And, Voiageur-Dashcavich isn’t the only one who feels this way. She says that more and more of her old classmates from the residential school


GENERATIONS: Alec Bruno is Chief Adam’s father and is also a leader of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation as the Co-Chair of the Elders Council.

are retiring and returning to the community. She says the community has changed since her childhood, there was no electricity when she left and running water was just starting to be introduced, but one thing has remained. “It’s so beautiful up here, it never yet ceases to amaze me,” she explains. “And you don’t have to go very far to find that beauty either.” These days, Voiageur-Dashcavich spends her retirement It’s important to teach our youth their working with youth in the Fort culture so that they can turn around Chipewyan community. The and pass it on to future generations,” traditional dance class she helps Janet Voiageur-Dashcavich says. facilitate has grown from two to “We almost lost our culture in the 20 in a couple years. She teaches residential schools; now we’re trying children all aspects of her to take it back.” Athabasca Chipewyan heritage and regularly helps youth craft their traditional outfits, completely from scratch. To Voiageur-Dashcavich there is no better way she could be spending her retirement than being back with the Athabasca Chipewyan people and passing on her heritage. “It’s important to teach our youth their culture so that they can turn around and pass it on to future generations,” she says. “We almost lost our culture in the residential schools; now we’re trying to take it back.”

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THE RIGHT PATH: For the past two years Chief Ron Kreutzer has been at the helm helping transform Fort McMurray First Nation.


25 years: the athabasCa tribal CounCil


Fort McMurray First Nation #468

Legacy Issues There is a movement in Fort McMurray First Nation to address divisions left over from Treaty 8’s early days By Jordan Wilkins


Photography by Patrick Kane

hen Ron KReutzeR moved back to the Fort McMurray No. 468 First Nation three years ago, he immediately recognized the largest problem that his childhood community was facing, and it’s one that he believes any successful community needs to overcome. “Our First Nation has been struggling with housing problems for a long time,” he explains. “There were people living in condemned homes because they had no other options. If you don’t have a proper roof over your head, you’re not going to be able to function.” Kreutzer wasted no time and ran for Chief, a position he’s held for the last two years. Since then

he’s tried to improve conditions for the community, building 12 new homes and upgrading the still-not-completely-reliable water infrastructure. The Fort McMurray First Nation consists of four separate reserves, three about 50 kilometres southeast of Fort McMurray in the Gregoire Lake area and another about 20 kilometres east of Fort McMurray in the Clearwater area. Anzac, in the Gregoire Lake area, is the First Nation’s largest community and, while it recently received a water pipeline from Fort McMurray – an improvement on the old system of hauling in water from outside the region – Kreutzer says there are still times when it runs dry, leaving his people without running water. He says these conditions deter most of the Fort McMurray First Nations people from living on reserve land as the majority opts to live in the city of Fort McMurray. The Fort McMurray First Nation’s history also plays a large part in its current challenges, Kreutzer says. The First Nation is a mix of Cree and Chipewyan people whose ancestors signed Treaty 8 in 1899. The Fort

LEFT DRY: Violet Cheechan says conditions are improving but she still goes days without running water.

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noRtheRn StaRS




 Athabasca Tribal Council     



Fort McMurray First Nation #468 McKay First Nation was originally part of the It wasn’t that we didn’t get along; it’s just that Fort McMurray First Nation, before disbanding it would have been different had we voluntarily in 1942. This left just the three Gregoire Lake welcomed them.” reserves and the Clearwater reserve. Kreutzer Growing up, Cheecham’s family was one of the says this ignited tensions between the two areas few in the Gregoire Lake area. She left the area that can still be felt to this day. When members when she was 22, but returned several years ago to of the Clearwater take care of her father. Now band were in power, 85, Cheecham says that the they would often Development in the area has changed Fort McMurray First Nation neglect the Anzac people’s way of life, but Chief Kreutzer is is barely recognizable when and Gregoire Lake compared to how it was hopeful to take advantage of industry. land because they in her youth. “When I was didn’t consider it to be their own, Kreutzer says. young, I left on the train,” she explains. “When But, he’s working on a solution that he says would I came back, it was on the new highway. Now we be best for the entire First Nation. “We are trying have roads, electricity and running water; well, at to split our First Nations apart so that both bands least most of the time.” can take ownership of their own land,” he says. Cheecham lives in a mobile home and has been “We are not separate yet, but we are working on it. without running water for several days. She grew It’s in the best interest for both bands.” up in the area without running water, and her Violet Cheecham, a Fort McMurray First people historically used water from the nearby Nation Elder, agrees. “I think [a split] would be Gregoire Lake. But now it isn’t as clean as it used very good for both factions, because the two never to be. And while Cheecham admits that industry really came together,” she explains. “Neither tribe brings benefits for people in the region, she really enjoyed the situation because it was forced. says that the effect on the lake is just one of the

negative aspects development has brought to the Fort McMurray region and her people. “We will never have the same life available to us that we had when I was a child,” she says. “That has been taken away from us.” Kreutzer agrees that the amount of development in the area has changed his people’s way of life, but he is hopeful to take advantage of industry as other First Nations in the region have done. One of the biggest obstacles to accomplishing this, however, comes from the First Nation’s high levels of debt, due to what he calls years of mismanagement. “We still owe over $2 million,” he explains. “That is down from over $5 million from just a few years ago.” This financial situation has also hampered operations for the band’s lone company, Christina River Enterprises. “Until two or three years ago, we couldn’t even afford to pay our employees,” Kreutzer says. “Now we are getting more and more contracts. It’s great to have these contracts with industry, but these deals often move very slowly.” Because of this, Kreutzer says many of his people have been forced to move from the

reserve to find work or face unemployment. “That’s the same choice I had to make when I was younger too,” he says. “We are hoping to stop that cycle.” Kreutzer spent most of his career working as an operator for Syncrude and wasn’t able to return to Fort McMurray First Nation permanently until his retirement. He recognizes that in many cases moving away is the only option, which is why he is planning to establish a trades training centre for

his people. This would put youth entering the workforce in an advantageous position when competing for industry-related jobs in the region. Daphanie Kreutzer, Chief Kreutzer’s granddaughter, just graduated from high school and has seen a lot of her friends move off the



www.noraltalodge.com 1.866.536.8590 OR stay@noraltalodge.com Wind of Change: Daphanie Kreutzer hopes to raise her newborn in the Anzac area. Five years ago, raising a child in the area is something she probably wouldn’t have considered.

reserve to work in the oil sands. At this point, she isn’t sure what path she is going take. She recently gave birth to her first child, Ellie, a healthy baby girl. Daphanie says she would like to raise her daughter in the Anzac area because she enjoys interacting with the nature in the region and she plans to pass on her heritage, just like her grandfather did to her. “Learning about our past is very interesting,” she says. “I think it’s important that we keep that culture.” Daphanie has spent her entire life in the Gregoire Lake area and, although her 18 years isn’t quite as much as Cheecham’s 85, the area is still different than it was when she was a child. “There are more houses now and a lot of the old run-down ones have been fixed up recently,” Daphanie explains. Like her grandfather, Daphanie also believes the housing problem is the biggest challenge that Fort McMurrary First Nation faces, but she says things have been turning around. “Five years ago, I’m not sure I would have said that I wanted to raise my child here, but today it’s definitely a better place than it was.”

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25 years: the athabasca tribal council


Mikisew Cree First Nation

Long Time Coming Chief Courtoreille turned anger into inspiration and was elected to lead the Mikisew Cree First Nation By Jordan Wilkins


Photography by Patrick Kane

TEVE COURTOREILLE STANDS WITHin an arm’s reach of a run-down barbedwire fence that once literally kept him from his heritage. The residential school he attended in Fort Chipewyan for over a decade no longer stands, but to Courtoreille, the memory of his time there is still fresh. “I used to fight every step of the way,” he recalls, pointing to the path that once led from the fence to the schoolhouse

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door. The stone path is faded and looks underwhelming today but to Coutoreille it is the battleground of his youth, where he fought for his identity, even if he didn’t fully grasp the magnitude of it at the time. It’s easy to imagine Courtoreille as a fighter in his youth. He may not have always had the powerful stature that he does today but his spirit is strong, as is his pride for the Mikisew Cree people. He just needed to harness that passion and focus it on the right path. “I left the residential school as a very angry young man; it was sickening.” Courtoreille was eventually able to turn that anger into inspiration and was elected as the Chief of the Mikisew Cree



THE WARRIOR RETURNS: After obtaining a law degree at the University of Windsor, Alice Martin decided to return to the Fort Chipewyan area and pass on her people’s heritage to the next generation.

First Nation two years ago. In that time, he has Grade 12 school will also focus heavily on trades education so that Mikisew spoken with his people and identified some of the Cree youth are in the best position to take advantage of the industry-related challenges Mikisew Cree faces as well as the best jobs in the area. Courtoreille hopes that Grade 12 grads will leave with a ways to overcome those challenges. Courtoreille diploma and an apprenticeship. “This isn’t just a dream we have,” he says. “It’s says the number one a plan to teach our way of life and promote a priority for Mikisew Cree A long-term Elders Care Facility means healthy and sustainable future for our people.” is in employment training Courtoreille has other plans on the horizon that people can stay in Fort Chipewyan and education for future for Mikisew Cree as well. In 2010, the band’s surrounded by the people they love,” generations. “We need to airline, Air Mikisew, was grounded. Courtoreille says Chief Steve Courtoreille. ensure that opportunities is currently in the planning stage of starting a are available for our people,” he says. “We need similar band-owned airline that will operate scheduled passenger services to make sure that our youth can get into the in the Fort McMurray and Fort Chipewyan region, based at the Fort McMurworkforce, make sure our young people don’t have ray Airport. The First Nation is also in discussions to partner with several to move away from our land and our history like so construction and maintenance projects in Alberta and Saskatchewan. many people from my generation had to.” Courtoreille says he believes the best thing for his people is to build a strong And, that opportunity needs to be in place at a relationship with industry and take advantage of the economic opportunity young age, Courtoreille says. That’s why there are that industry brings. “Our relationship with industry helps us be more plans to build a new school, right where the Fort self-sustainable,” he explains. Chipewyan residential school used to be. This The sense of self-sufficiency is demonstrated by the several companies that time, instead of trying to separate students from Mikisew Cree owns, either in full or in part, in the Fort Chipewyan area and their First Nations heritage, the school will focus throughout the province. In Fort Chipewyan, Mikisew runs a fuel distribution on teaching and preserving the Aboriginal culture. service called Fort Petroleum as well as a construction company called MSD “It’ll be full time too, not just 40 minutes a day,” Corp., which operates both in Fort Chipewyan and Fort McMurray. The band Courtoreille adds. The planned kindergarten to also owns a majority share in a hotel in Fort McMurray. And it owns Mikisew


25 years: the athabasca tribal council



Energy Services Group, also in Fort McMurray, which provides a number of services to the oil sands industry. In Edmonton, it owns Mikisew Industrial Supply. These endeavours allow Mikisew Cree to take advantage of the booming industry in the region and provide jobs for community members. “We chose to take a different path when it comes to industry and I think we are better off because of that. Mikisew Cree can become a model to First Nations all across this country, not just financially, but for health and education too; but those things do cost money.� One health initiative that Mikisew Cree First Nation offers is its Elders Program. This program came into fruition about a decade ago after the First Nation was awarded a land claims settlement from the federal government that provided funding for community development. Courtoreille has continued with supporting Mikisew’s Elders, and thanks to the First Nation’s relationship with Shell Canada, Elders will receive even more support in the years to come. Construction is currently underway on the First Nation for the Elders Care Centre in Fort Chipewyan that will act as a long-term care facility for Elders in the region with Shell allocating $500,000 for the

The annual publication of the Oilsands Banquet

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construction through its social investment program. Courtoreille says that this facility furthers the First Nation’s goal of self-sustainability. “A lot of our Elders struggled with the residential schools,” he explains. “Some were forced off the land and became dependent on government services. That’s not what we want. We take care of our own. I don’t want Mikisew Cree Elders dying out of loneliness in Fort McMurray hospitals. This facility means that our people can stay in our community surrounded by the people they love.” Alice Martin likes the sound of that. The 62-year-old Mikisew Cree Elder has spent nearly her whole life in the Fort Chipewyan area and, although the region has undergone great change in her lifetime, it’s still her favourite place in the world. “I enjoy everything about the land; it’s where I find solace,” she explains. “The area is so beautiful that it’s hard to stay away.” The historical land of the Mikisew lies in the centre of the Peace-Athabasca Delta leading into Lake Athabasca. Various lakes, rivers, streams and creeks meet at the delta, which meant the Mikisew people always had access to a rich ecosystem of plants and animals. Although the land of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, which was formed in 1899, includes nine reserves, most members, like Martin, live in Fort Chipewyan or Fort McMurray. Martin’s father was a leader of the Mikisew people for most of his life and he instilled Mikisew’s heritage into her at a young age. He taught her how to hunt, how to cure meat and the native Cree language. “It used to feel like there were as many ducks on the lake as there were mosquitoes,” she recalls. Martin retained all of this knowledge, even after spending over a decade

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at the residential school in Fort Chipewyan. “The plan was to assimilate the ‘Indians,’ ” Martin says. “The nuns used to tell us that in order to be successful, we’d have to change our ways. I made a vow to make something of myself and never forget my identity.” Today, Martin doesn’t hunt like she used to, but she can speak fluent Cree while cutting strips of moose meat to turn into jerky. She studied law and obtained a degree from the University of Windsor. As a young law student, she drew inspiration from Gandhi and his victories for his culture and his people. After graduation she decided to return to the Fort Chipewyan region to follow in the footsteps of her father and honour her culture. “My tribe needed a warrior back home to preserve our heritage,” she says. When she hears Courtoreille’s plan for the new school in Fort Chipewyan, one that will promote aboriginal culture instead of oppress it, she smiles. She says she wishes her sons would have been able to learn about the Mikisew people in a classroom instead of from her and says she knows her father would have also loved the idea. While Martin admits that the growing number of people coming to the area allows for a greater chance that the Mikisew culture is lost, when she sees how interested the next generation is in learning their culture, whether it’s the traditional language, dance or rituals, she has to be optimistic. “Our way of knowing sometimes looks like it will become a thing of the past, but it’s never lost,” she says. “Sometimes it makes me feel unhappy, but all you have to do is talk to the younger generation, see how eager they are to learn our heritage and it fills me with hope.”

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Close the Gap There is a documented gap between First Nations students and those in the rest of Canada. The ATC’s Education department won’t rest until it’s closed By Lisa Ricciotti


Photography by Patrick Kane

ita Marten and Charles nokohoo didn’t need to crack the cover of the 95-page research document released last May to guess what would be inside. Another report, another discussion of the gap between the educational achievements of First Nation and other Canadian students. This time the data was national in scope, gathered in 2012 for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, and the academic performance gap was red-flagged as “significant.” The federal report also highlighted a “resources gap” in First Nations education caused by chronic underfunding of

Aboriginal schools, particularly those in isolated regions where it’s also difficult to attract and retain teachers. None of this is news to Marten. The former Chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation has served as director of the Athabasca Tribal Council’s Education department for the past six years. She sees the clear differences up close as she interacts with students, parents and teachers. But Marten doesn’t try to dismiss the education gap as racist stereotyping; she faces it head-on as she works hard to close the gap. “It’s reality,” Marten says. “We have good enrollment from kindergarten to Grade 6, but between Grades 7 and 9, the differences start to catch up. First Nation students find themselves behind their peers, especially in math skills. They struggle, feel inadequate, start skipping classes and many drop out. Our highschool completion rate is very low, often just one grad per year in a community. This year, from our five member nations, we had about a dozen graduates.”

HIGHER EDUCATION: Rita Marten and Charles Nokohoo know the education challenges in the region but their personal successes are a testament to the potential of students in the member nations.

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Nokohoo hasn’t been part of the ATC Education Hancock took drastic action. He fired Northland’s entire board of 23 trustees Committee as long as Marten, but he’s also very and ordered an inquiry into the division’s daily operations. Finally, Alberta mindful of the gap and its impact. The Chipewyan Education was taking action on problems that ATC itself had identified in 1997, Prairie First Nation member was ATC’s sustainable when it set up its own education committee to address these issues. development coordinator for six years before switching his focus from the Employment and Training “Meet Me halfway” department to the Education department. During his “The education system has to change,” Marten says. She knows there are many time helping people find the best job suited for them, reasons why First Nations students lag behind others in Alberta, over and above his research kept coming back to a major underlying the often-cited financial handicap of less funding and fewer resources. But for problem: the need for better education for First Marten, it all comes back to restoring pride and rebuilding community within Nations members. ATC’s five member nations with an education that’s relevant to Aboriginal values “Our studies showed 42 per cent unemployment and ways of life. across the ATC First Nations,” says Nokohoo. “Why? “It’s important to know where you come from,” she emphasizes. “You have to be Lack of education and lack of employability training proud of your heritage, your culture and your language.” Marten learned this leswere the major barriers. And in education, the bigson from her father, whom she describes as a visionary. “He always told me to never gest challenge is what’s lose my language and our way of life. But he also knew called ‘the three-year In addition to Cree and Dene language mainstream education was important to succeed. He gap.’ When our students believed we could live together, natives and non-natives, programs in schools, the ATC Education enter high school, but only with acceptance and understanding from both Committee is finding ways to bring in a their education is the sides. ‘Meet me halfway,’ was his motto. We need to keep First Nations perspective. equivalent of three that emphasis in our children’s public education.” grades below their peers elsewhere. That’s unacceptWhen the Northland School Division Inquiry Team submitted its findings to able and my goal is to make positive change.” the provincial government in late 2010, many of its 48 recommendations reflected In the Athabasca region, the majority of students feedback received from extensive consultation with First Nations in the region. attend schools in Northland School Division No. 61. Above all, the message was that Northland should remain unique (rather than Its borders encompass such remote communities as being assimilated into neighbouring divisions) and its overall philosophy and Fort Chipewyan, Fort McKay, Anzac, Conklin and curriculum should reflect its students’ First Nations cultural background. Janvier. Very few have high schools; students must Already involved in its own efforts to strengthen students’ awareness of their travel hours by bus or move to major centres outside heritage, ATC welcomed Alberta Education’s new spirit of collaboration. Today the district for Grades 10 to 12. With approximately ATC partners with local school boards to create a curriculum that satisfies 2,900 students enrolled at 23 schools scattered throughout its far-flung but sparsely populated region, Northland’s demographic is unique among Alberta’s school divisions. At least 95 per cent or more of its students are First Nations or Métis. The ATC Education department’s vision stresses quality education where students are knowledgeable and proud of their culture and highly successful in academics. Yet under the current Alberta Education system, Northland is known more for its history of low performance scores than for producing high-achievers from local First Nation communities. Over the years, Northland has rarely budged from its bottom-rung ranking on annual Provincial Achievement Tests (PATs). In 2010, its dropout rate was nearly three times the provincial average and its high-school completion rate stood at just 19.6 per cent compared to Alberta’s overall average of 70.7 per cent. It’s hard to imagine such results being tolerated in any other school division, yet Northland’s IT STarTS Here: During his time with the Employment and educational crisis flew under the radar of both Training department Nokohoo found a direct link between government and public attention for years until unemployment and a lack of education in First Nations communities. early 2010 – when then-Education Minister Dave


25 years: the athabasCa tribal CounCil


Muskeg Lake

Congratulations on their 25th Silver Anniversary to the Athabasca Tribal Council and the Cree and Dene people in Northeastern Alberta To learn more about Kearl, including job and business opportunities, please visit www.imperialoil.ca/kearl

provincial standards while instilling First Nation traditions and values. “Most teachers come from outside our region and don’t understand the Aboriginal way of life and why students act the way they do,” says Marten. “We need to educate them in an appreciation of our culture. In addition to bringing Cree and Dene language programs into community schools, the ATC Education Committee is finding other ways to bring the First Nations perspective into classrooms. Marten notes that involvement in the Elders in Residence program, where First Nations Elders instruct and mentor youth, continues to grow. The ATC also participates in special Aboriginal days and activities, which increasing numbers of Northland schools now offer through the term to celebrate Aboriginal culture. “Students and teachers are very receptive to First Nations learning as well as the standard curriculum. There’s respect for both,” she says. Marten is thankful she has a strong background to call on as she assists new partnerships. She has a teacher’s degree, and was the first Cree to instruct in her native tongue in the public schools. This fall she is giving Cree language and culture classes for adults and youth in Fort McMurray. “It’s a way for the generations to learn together. Parents need to be engaged in their children’s education and this is another way to build connections. We can’t change the system unless everyone gets involved. Collaboration and community are the way forward.” Programmed to suPPort The local education system has made progress in the last six years, although there’s still a long journey ahead. Marten’s instincts are backed by Alberta Education, whose 2012-2013 annual report noted that the dropout rate for First Nation students has lessened over the past three years and the high-school completion rate is expected to further increase over the new few years. That’s hopeful news, and two important ATC programs managed by Charles Nokohoo are undoubtedly part of this change: the Boarding Home Program and the Post-Secondary Education Program. Marten and Nokohoo are big believers in both. As young students, both of them experienced the programs’ benefits and credit the ATC support for their educational success. “I’m from the old school,” says Marten, who was taken from her home at just eight years of age to attend a residential school. Unlike so many residential school attendees, her experience wasn’t


25 years: the athabasCa tribal CounCil

Born to teach: Marten’s lifelong love affair with education makes the former Chief of Mikisew Cree First Nation the perfect fit to lead the ATC’s Education department. entirely negative; she gained a life-long love of learning. After completing high school, she worked, raised a family, then with post-secondary financial support from ATC, she earned her education degree. Nokohoo also received ATC support for his education, first when he left Janvier at 17 to attend high school in Fort Smith, and later when he completed an accounting certificate and management degree. Today he’s helping smooth the learning curve for students as ATC’s education coordinator, offering career counselling, and helping students apply for post-secondary schools and financial assistance. “I’ve helped students from 18 to 60 years old. If they have the potential and the desire, and meet ATC requirements, we can help them. Today we have students taking aviation mechanics in Calgary with ATC’s support and many others have gone on to careers in sociology, engineering, education, psychology and family services. We’ve helped students train to become RCMP, doctors and veterinarians and take management positions in the oil industry.” Since not all communities in the region have high schools, students must move to larger centres like Fort McMurray or Edmonton. It’s a tough transition, between homesickness, the struggle to keep up academically, taking extra classes, and coping with bullying and racism. ATC removes the stress of financial worries and ensures young students are boarded with families willing to provide stability and structure. “I hope that through the Great Spirit many students we’ve assisted will later come back to their communities and help others,” Nokohoo says. “We need to open minds, showing what’s possible with training and education. Attitudes are changing and I remain very positive about our First Nations’ futures.” As for Marten, she dreams of a day when First Nations move closer to true self-governance by gaining control over their education. “We’re working toward establishing tribal school districts, with our own curriculum. It’s an ongoing goal.” In the meantime, she and Nokohoo will continue to spread the message of the value of education – and work on ways to narrow the current academic gap narrower, until it’s nonexistent.


BP is proud to honour the Athabasca Tribal Council


The Perfect Job The ATC’s Employment and Training department is a prime player helping potential workers within the five member nations find the right jobs By Séamus Smyth Employment and Training department. This is where the ATC continues to stimulate the workforce within the Aboriginal community, creating a winning situation for industry and First Nations members striving for meaningful employment. Since its inception, the ATC’s Employment and Training department has been a prime player in aiding potential workers within the five member nations by guiding individuals with particular skills sets to the best-suited

Photo: Patrick Kane


he oil and gas industry brings challenges to the Athabasca region, but there is no doubt that it also brings an abundance of economic advantages. That is, if you have the right training and credentials. That’s why one of the Athabasca Tribal Council’s (ATC) busiest sections is its

PAid in Full: For Kara Dube and Pamela Herman, the job isn’t done until a new one starts for people in their programs. The ATC’s Employment and Training department works with industry to find the perfect fit for First Nations members seeking meaningful employment.

The annual publication of the Oilsands Banquet

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The annual publication of the Oilsands Banquet

On the JOb: The Janiver Workforce Strategy provides training and skill development for members of the Chipewyan Prairie First Nation with little prior work experience. Cenvous is one of several industry leaders that has supported this program since its inception six months ago.

Photo: Joey Podlubny

positions. And, if members from the communities don’t have the particular skill set needed to obtain a desired position, the department will provide specialized training, or match the potential employee with a company’s industry training program. Kara Dube, the director of the Employment and Training department, says that this is one of the top priorities of her department; ensuring that people are fitted with the perfect program to garner the right position, meaning that in each case, more job characteristics than just the monetary benefits are considered. “A heavy equipment program, for example, is something most people can do. But we still like to sit down and come to an understanding about what individuals want out of their career,” she explains. “If someone really likes to work with people, we will look to find them an administration position rather than a position out in the field.” Despite the strength of the Employment and Training department, Dube says there are still barriers that need to be broken before it can become even more successful. A majority of the First Nations people come from rural communities, so the ATC looks to meet the expectations of potential employers by ensuring potential employees are completely prepared for the positions. This means ensuring that people have the ability to physically get to work each day and are confident about the job they are doing when they wake up every morning. This is why the department recently added programs that incorporate life skills into the training sessions. Dube stresses the importance of helping people learn how to best balance the pendulum of family life and work life. “Fort McMurray is definitely unique in the sense that you can work as much as you want,” she explains. But the option of working non-stop can obviously be a hindrance on one’s quality of life, especially when an employee is new to this kind of schedule. Therefore, candid conversations transpire to ensure potential employees are aware of what the sacrifices can look like when working seven days on, seven days off. And Dube and her team make sure that staff members in the Employment and Training department’s programs are aware of these challenges well before they enter a new position. Despite this all-encompassing approach that participants receive from the programs, Dube still believes that this concept must play a stronger tune in the ATC symphony. “If those barriers are

not addressed, all the training in the world is not going to set anybody up for life, which is ultimately what we hope to achieve,” she says. “Having these base skills is absolutely essential for them to move them forward.” Once people from the First Nation communities are at the point where they are ready to find a desired position, the Employment and Training department’s success is incumbent on the sturdy relationships it has built with industry in the area. Dube points to an example of a six-week training program held in collaboration with Paladin Security as just one instance of a highly successful partnership between industry and the tribal council. The Paladin program allows ATC trainees the opportunity to shine for one of the province’s most well-known security teams, while Paladin gets to choose from a handful of applicants who, through the program, have already demonstrated their knowledge of the industry. “It really is win-win for everyone involved,” Dube says. Paladin isn’t the only company in the region with this kind of special relationship to the Employment and Training department. Dube can rattle off her department’s corporate partners like it’s second nature: ConocoPhillips, Imperial Oil, Nexen, Shell. The list goes on. Syncrude also holds a place on that list. Donelda Patterson, Syncrude’s human resources services manager, has a lot of praise for the Employment and Training programs and the synergy they create with Syncrude’s HR department. “Syncrude looks first for qualified people in the region to fill open positions in our organization,” Patterson explains. “That’s why we are pleased to see the ATC’s Employment and Training program help provide

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qualified local people who can fill those positions for us.� Syncrude is one of Canada’s largest employers of First Nations people. In 2011, First Nations represented more than 15 per cent of the company’s new employees. Of Syncrude’s total workforce, about nine per cent of employees are of self-declared First Nations, MÊtis or Inuit descent. And, while Syncrude receives talented employees, many through ATC’s Employment and Training department as the perfect fit for a specific opening, Syncrude in turn provides its own services and programs for First Nations in the Athabasca region. One is the Fort Chip Fly-in Rotational Program. Here, Syncrude provides career opportunities for those living in the remote northern Alberta community, with the majority being First Nation members. The program offers employees free accommodation for the duration of their shift at Syncrude and free air transport to and from Fort Chipewyan. Recently this rotational program expanded to include southern Wood Buffalo communities with free ground transportation for First Nations in communities like Janvier and Conklin. Aboriginal employment is also a very important aspect of Suncor’s human resources department, particularly in the Athabasca oilsands region. Suncor is one of the founding

ATC Employment and Training programs stress the importance of the balance between family life and work life.

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companies and supporters of the Aboriginal Lynx program. This program is designed to meet the need for direct links between Aboriginal post-secondary students looking for employment experience (or full-time work after graduation) and employers who are seeking skilled individuals from an Aboriginal background. The Aboriginal Lynx program shares many of the same goals and mandates with the ATC’s Employment and Training department and Suncor has been a natural fit for the department when it comes to training and hiring First Nations members seeking sustainable employment in the Athabasca region. Cenovus Energy is another northern star, according to Dube, when it comes to the company’s relationship with the ATC’s Employment and Training department. Maureen Sander, senior advisor with recruitment at Cenvous, says

that it is the company’s mandate to work closely with communities in proximity to its operations. An important part of this is finding employment opportunities for people in the region. The company’s Christina Lake operation is located just south of the Chipewyan Prairie First Nation community of Chard. Sander says that the ATC’s Employment and Training department has had a natural collaboration with the Cenovus Employment Bridging Initiative. The Employment Bridging Initiative is a program Cenvous has in place to complement its regular recruitment program and to find valuable employees in the regions of its operations. “This initiative gives people the opportunity for entry level positions that have a career path with Cenovus,� Sander explains. “It gives them the chance to have a really good starting point. They can get a sense of what certain positions are all about and can learn how to become qualified for a certain role.� This is where the ATC’s Employment and Training department comes in. The ATC offers training or points a person in the right direction to acquire that training whether from Keyano College or through a company’s own educational program. Often the ATC will provide people with a certain skill set, but a waiting period takes place because the perfect position isn’t readily available. Such was the case for Blair Lemaigre, a Chipewyan Prairie First Nation member. Lemaigre went through two programs after contacting the ATC, saying he was interested in becoming certified to take advantage of the industry-related jobs in the area. He completed an environmental monitoring program as well as an electrical program but didn’t immediately find exactly what he was looking for. Then, thanks to the ATC Employment and Training department, he saw a list of job openings at the Cenovus Christina Lake location. The company was looking for a safety technician and Lemaigre, who had heard good things about safety positions from friends in the industry, decided to apply. Last December, after an interview process and skills assessment, Lemaigre was hired and has been with Cenovus ever since. “So far I love everything about my job,� Lemaigre says. “Every day is something new. The ATC was important in this process; it didn’t happen right away, but this job paid off for me in the long run. I really get to enjoy what I do every single day.�

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Put Health First

Put Health First The ATC meets local heath needs with novel programming, tailored to the region’s challenges By Tricia Radison


Photography by Patrick Kane

ITH THE RAPID ACCELERATION of development in the Wood Buffalo region over the past 10 years, health has become an increasingly important issue for the area’s First Nations. Members are concerned about growing rates of cancer and other chronic diseases, and they continue to deal with the negative effects of the residential school system. At the same time, the population explosion has strained health-care resources causing small, remote communities even more difficulty attracting health-care professionals. Complicating matters

further, the travel required in these communities for services that most Albertans can get just down the street is challenging, especially in fly-in communities. And language issues can make communication difficult. These are just some of the challenges that the First Nations in the Athabasca area face every day. But, there is help. Aiding First Nation communities and their members manage these challenges is the job of ATC’s Department of Health. Established in 2000, the department connects communities with health services and disseminates health information between First Nations and Health Canada, Alberta Health Services and other government agencies. It also runs programs to address challenges specific to First Nations, all in an effort to meet people’s health-care needs. “The Chiefs in the region are very concerned about health issues and Life SupporT: One of the largest issues for member First Nations is the accessibility to proper health care. The ATC’s Health department, made up of Delores Ladoucuer, Tina Michael and Hilda Lepine, works to overcome issues that come with living in remote communities.

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supportive of the work we do,” says Roy Vermillion, with the Treaty 6 and Treaty 7 regions. The committees provide a forum for the ATC’s CEO. “There are concerns about the meeting with government and health agencies to share such concerns and to impacts of industrial development and of the receive up-to-date information that the committees can communicate to the First residential schools, and other issues that our people Nation communities. are experiencing. They look to the ATC’s Department But the five communities the ATC serves need more than just transferred of Health to investigate and try to deal with those information. They need people transferred as well. And transporting First Nation issues.” members to and from Fort McMurray to receive health services isn’t always Five years ago, high rates of cancer in two First easy, especially for the fly-in community of Fort Chipewyan. That’s why the ATC Nation communities raised an alarm about the Health Department implemented the Medical Transportation Program in 2000, a environmental health issues related to oil sands federally funded program that provides meals, accommodation and air or ground development. With developtransportation for people who need to travel to ment increasing further Fort McMurray for medical treatment. over the last five years, those Health challenges faced in ATC communities The Medical Transportation staff members concerns remain. include the distance from major centres and work closely with community health centres “There is no doubt that the legacy of the residential school system. to provide a seamless transition for patients. industrial development They also work with ATC’s hospital liaison, who produces pollution and that the pollutants travel acts as a translator for those who need one and provides advisory services and through the air, water and land and make their way assistance to make the hospital experience more comfortable. When an individual to our people,” says Vermillion. “Part of our role is is discharged, the hospital liaison and Medical Transportation staff collaborate to to communicate those concerns to the government arrange transportation and accommodation in a timely manner. so we can try to find ways to work with industry and The Medical Transport team is vital to the Health Department’s operations and reduce health risks.” it ensures that First Nation members have access to the same level of health care The tribal council has staff on committees at the as other Canadians. The Medical Transport team augments the care available in Treaty 8 level who also participate on committees the communities. Nurses are often available and doctors visit community health

Commitment Runs Deep

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centres a few times a month. But the general shortage Throughout a hearing, she ensures that the claimant is safe at all times, making of medical professionals in Alberta affects the sure that they are comfortable and provides guidance through the process. She number of services the centres can offer. also stays in contact with the claimant’s legal council. The same support services “Doctors and nurses are all concentrated in urban are available to former students attending community, regional and national centres. In our communities, nurses come and go Truth and Reconciliation and Commemoration events. based on how many are available with Health Canada. Lepine has seen the positive effects of the IRS program first-hand and says that Some communities only have a nurse coming in from it’s important to continue to service survivors and their families from the five First Edmonton for a few days Nations that make up the ATC. Many people are every couple of weeks. As a Vermillion agrees that the IRS Program is still waiting to have their IAP hearings and the result, more and more people critical to the health and wellness of people healing journey is a long one. have to travel for medical “I have talked to many clients who have said in the First Nations communities. services,” explains Vermillion. that they feel safe and more secure when I am The result, he adds, is that the Medical Transportawith them at their hearings, filling out forms or just sharing information,” she says. tion program has grown over the years – a trend that “Many clients are trying very hard to make a good life for themselves and their will likely continue. families, and they need our support.” As the programs in the Department of Health The IRS program regularly holds workshops and other events that address continue to grow and evolve, new ones are also added issues related to culture. Lepine recently held a drum-making workshop where wherever the organization sees the need. In 2009, attendees were shown how to make a drum, the meaning of the drum and the the ATC saw the inception of the Indian Residential protocol for caring for the drum. Such events help survivors feel connected to School (IRS) program. The IRS program provides their culture and community and promote the way of living that they were once emotional support, cultural support, professional taught was wrong. counselling, transportation, information and referVermillion agrees that the IRS Program is critical to the health and wellness of rals to former residential school students and their people in the First Nations communities. families. Today, the program has about 200 clients. “The Indian residential schools have impacted people in all five communities, The IRS program began because of the circumespecially in Fort Chipewyan, where a lot of the members were in residential stances residential school survivors face and the schools beginning in the 1850s up until the 1970s,” he says. “Children that came challenges that they continue struggle with long after later are also impacted by their parents’ and grandparents’ experiences. It’s caused their time at the school. a lot of physical, mental and emotional health problems. Our staff are here to “Our clients have experienced abuse, physical and assist the communities, create awareness and try to resolve the issues.” mental, loss of culture and identity, loss of native language and loss of spiritual beliefs,” explains Hilda Lepine, resolution health support worker with the ATC. “Many former students are lost in today’s society. They are faced with social issues such as alcohol, drugs and prostitution. Their identity has been taken away from them, and coping and adjusting has been very difficult.” In her role, Lepine listens to clients and talks to them about their residential school experiences. A big part of what she does is help people through Independent Assessment Process (IAP) hearings, an out-of-court process for resolving claims of sexual abuse, serious physical abuse and other wrongful acts suffered at residential schools. “Claimants are vulnerable. They are re-living past experiences and it brings back triggers that may traumatize them all over again. Having someone there as a support is a comfort for them,” says Lepine, who provides emotional and practical support before, during and after the IAP hearing. The fact that Lepine is a survivor herself makes it easier for her to establish a trusting relationship with people so they can share how they’re feeling.


25 years: the athabasca tribal council



hope at home Building better relationships takes time, practice and good examples. The ATC’s Child and Family Services department helps By Carissa Halton


Photography by Patrick Kane

ver the past twO years, Doreen Jackson has seen a change in the kind of phone calls the ATC’s Child and Family Services office receives. “People are more open to phone our office and update us on where they’re at,” the organization’s director says. “That says a lot. Instead of avoiding us, people who have gone through our programs are calling to let us know how they are.” ATC’s Child and Family Services is one of 18 delegated First Nations agencies in Alberta. In 2001, the Ministry of Children’s Services (responsible for the protection of Alberta’s children) granted

the ATC the authority to administer child welfare services to the five member nations. For two years, Jackson has led a growing team of exceptionally qualified staff from a diverse cross-section of First Nation’s communities and experiences. Almost half are from the member nations, Jackson says. “It’s worked to our benefit. While staff from the community don’t work with their immediate family, people are more open to them because they are from here. If you are respected and trusted, families will work with you.” There are still situations that require Jackson’s department to remove children from their homes for their safety (these occasions are legislated by the provincial government), but the Child and Family Services program offers more than just child protection in the area. For instance, the Family Enhancement program is committed to supporting families before a crisis occurs. And it’s this kind of preventative care that Jackson says is vital to the success of families in

HOMEMADE: Almost half of the Child and Family Services staff come from member nations.

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the community. “One of our promises to our clients risk. In these cases, the Child and Family Services’ mantra is to seek out family is that we will give them the tools to become the first. Often grandparents, aunties, and cousins step forward to care for the successful parents they want to be,” says Jackson. children. In just one of many instances of the Kinship Care initiative, this year Recently, a young couple approached the office a child’s grandparents quit drinking – cold turkey – in order to care for their for help. They had a toddler and were struggling with granddaughter. If no family member initially volunteers, parents will provide the many new responsibilities of raising a child. The Jackson’s team with names of their most trusted family members. Kinship Family Enhancement worker helped them assess Care staff then contact the family, present them with the children’s need and the support they needed to thrive. The worker then reassure them that they will get the support they need to manage the care of found a baby daycare and, as the toddler learned their loved one. socialization skills, the At the end of the day, however, the intent is to always couple was free to attend A child’s sense of belonging builds bring the kids home and keep them with their parents parenting and counselling whenever possible. “We are always actively working confidence and success,” says Doreen programs. with parents,” says Jackson. “There is always hope. Jackson. “Reunification Home means “In the end, the child they’ll maintain the critical relationships.” Often, the parents are young, and are still growing up. didn’t have to come into This doesn’t mean their kids will permanently be in care, as the parents were more than willing to work care. We work with parents to get them to a point where they can take back their with the program,” explains Jackson. Without the parenting,” says Jackson, “Often that means getting them the support they need: Family Enhancement program there would most addiction treatment, parenting training, whatever they feel they need, we try to likely be more situations where kids need to be arrange it.” removed from homes, Jackson says, but because of One recent breakthrough Jackson’s team had was with a family that had 20 the program the ATC can go forward with the least years of child protection history. The parents had gone into treatment five or intrusive means, and keep families together. six times over the course of their children’s involvement within government There are times, however, when a family can’t care. This year, however, the couple completed addictions treatment, anger overcome the challenges that put their children at management classes, and a personal healing program. “Twenty-two years, it’s

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BUILT WITH LOVE: Families in the five member nations have better resources closer to home. taken them that long but they are still looking at taking back their children.” On HigHways 63 and 881, a steady stream of vehicles leaves Fort McMurray. While driving these roads is often the most dangerous part of the day for Jackson’s staff, every kilometre south they travel usually means that a child is that much further away from their community. Until now, when children from the five First Nations have had to enter a foster home, it has meant taking the first safe home available, usually in Edmonton or Innisfail. Soon, one special program will radically reduce the drive and shorten the distance between the children and their kin and culture. This fall, the ATC’s Child and Family Services will open a Reunification Home, the first of its kind in the area. Here, the children will find a safe place to live while staying close to their parents and extended family. Despite the separation, they’ll be able to maintain the central relationships that are so critical to the children’s wellbeing. “It’s really a home for these children; it’s not anything like an institution. There is lots of space for the kids,” says Jackson of the Reunification Home. An executive bi-level in central Fort McMurray, the six-bedroom home is 1,780 square feet with a fully finished basement, hardwood floors and high-gloss tile. It’s easy to hear the excitement in Jackson’s voice as she talks about what could be the biggest project in the Child and Family Services program’s


25 years: the athabasCa tribal CounCil

25-year history. She knows this is a massive step forward for First Nations families in the area and for continuing her program’s success. Jackson speaks enthusiastically about the home’s decor, like its espresso maple cabinets and granite counters. But what really excites her is the opportunities the home offers the children staying there. The kitchen will be a place where teens will learn to cook. A gas fireplace will warm the living area where family reunions take place. Four bathrooms will ensure that the children’s morning school routine remains as smooth as possible. The huge backyard looks back on a new school and playground and gives children the ability to enjoy the outdoors. There is also plenty of space for the kids to entertain their extended family and friends. “It’s a place they are going to love to come home to,” Jackson says. “It’s a place that everyone, the kids and their families, can be proud of.” As she coordinates the home’s finishing touches – furniture in the bedrooms, art on the walls, food in the cupboards – Jackson anticipates what the Reunification Home will mean for the families and for the five member nations. “A child’s sense of belonging builds confidence and success. Whether they return home or to kinship care, the Reunification Home close to their nation means they will maintain the critical relationships with parents and extended family.” Jackson looks forward to the day when the children in their care travel less. She also looks forward to a day when the ATC Child and Family Services staff can be permanently situated in the communities (right now, they travel to each community and set up temporary offices at each band office as needed). While staff members currently try to be in the First Nation communities as much as they can, opening up offices on site will make them that much more accessible. And better accessibility means their Family Enhancement and Kinship Care supports will be better understood within the communities. With some wood, nails and, compassion and understanding, Jackson and her staff are building not just a Reunification Home. They are building healthy families, supported by healthy communities. ATC Child and Family Services staff and Jackson hope to redefine people’s idea of a healthy family. “A healthy family is a family who knows its limits. A healthy person knows when to get help.” And, when that person or family is ready to get help, the ATC will be there.



Photo: Joey Podlubny

Final Words

Good Partnerships


N OrGaNIZaTION LIKe THe aTHaBasCa TrIBaL COUNCIL (aTC) CaN ONLy Be sUCCessFUL IF IT Has relationships and partnerships built on strong foundations. It’s absolutely vital that every department within the ATC has a productive rapport with all of its stakeholders. This includes working together with the board of directors, the five Chiefs of the member nations, as well as people in the First Nations communities to ensure that the ATC’s programs and services are assisting anyone who may need them. It also means working together with government and industry where applicable. Although the ATC isn’t involved in the day-to-day business of industry-related matters, the organization was very active in the All Parties Core Agreement, which provided a successful model of how industry, government, and First Nations can work together. The ATC and its five member First Nations are in a situation unlike any other in Canada. The Cree and Dene people have called the land in northeastern Alberta home since before recorded history. Tribal leaders have had to balance traditional values with economic opportunity since European fur traders first made their way west in the late 16th century. The fur trade came and went; today it’s the abundance of bitumen in the region’s oil sands that continues to offer both challenges and prospects to Fort McKay First Nation, Chipewyan Prairie First Nation, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Fort McMurray First Nation and Mikisew Cree First Nation.


25 years: the athabasCa tribal CounCil


Clean Harbors is proud to sponsor

Oilsands Banquet VII to honor and celebrate the

Athabasca Tribal Council on their Silver Anniversary.

780.743.0222 www.cleanharbors.com

Final Words Athabasca Chipewyan people are returning to their original reserve land. More homes are being built and upgraded on Fort McMurray First Nation reserve land. And Mikisew Cree First Nation has plans for a school in Fort Chipewyan that will focus on First Nation traditions and industry-related skills. Each First Nation is in a better situation than it was five years ago, which is the ultimate goal of the ATC. The ATC’s own departments and services, too, are different than they were at the time of its 20th anniversary, but one constant throughout the organization’s history has remained; its focus on continually improving conditions for First Nations people in the Athabasca region.

Photo: Patrick Kane

For the past quarter century the ATC has been an outlet for these member nations to band together on important issues in the Athabasca region. And the ATC is dedicated to providing services and programs that help increase the quality of life within these communities. These services have evolved over the organization’s rich history and will continue to meet the needs of the people in each member nation. And as the ATC has evolved, so too has each of the Treaty 8 First Nation communities. Fort McKay First Nation continues to use its business relationships to strengthen the programs and heritage of its people. Chipewyan Prairie First Nation’s largest community – Chard– is in the middle of unprecedented development.


25 years: the athabasca tribal council



 At Nexen, an important part of responsible development is our commitment to our neighbours. Through our Aboriginal Relations strategy, we invest in Aboriginal communities by supporting community development, arts and culture, education, environmental and business development initiatives.


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Athabasca Tribal Council @ 25 Years  

Athabasca Tribal Council @ 25 Years  

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