Keystone XL stories: Kim Marcel
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Kim Marcel is a long-term resident of Fort Chipewyan in Alberta, Canada, the home of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations. She has always been interested in the environment and is concerned about what the tar sands industry is doing to destroy it. She has been vocal about it in her community for many years. In the last few months, Kim has begun speaking to the wider world about the tar sands. While she is not of aboriginal descent, she moved to Fort Chip in 1979 and has since married into the community. Her husband and children are registered in the First Nations. She says she is proud to call Fort Chipewyan her home and will continue to call it her home for many years to come despite the current destruction in the area.
Kim believes the way of life for her and her family is being jeopardized by the actions of the tar sands industry. One of the toughest things she has had to do is ask her kids not to swim in the swimming hole by their house for fear of what is in the water. Also, the rising cancer rates in the community and pollution in the river have made them afraid to eat fish. Kim feels the government has neglected Fort Chipewyan by allowing Suncor and other tar sands oil companies to pollute the water and threaten the livelihood of everyone in her community.
The following is a transcript of an interview between Kim and Friends of the Earth about her story and why she is compelled to fight back against the Keystone XL pipeline.
How does the tar sands industry affect your community and the way you live?
My mom worked for the oil and gas industry and my uncles worked for them too. Industry has a huge role in our lives. Many people work there because they are a big employer in the area. If they had a choice to work outside of industry they would but they have to feed their families.
As a young child my uncle worked for some of the sites hauling sulfur and he remembers the snow being covered in yellow patches. In 1978 there was an oil spill that few people knew about. I moved here the next year and one day I was walking by the lake front beach and saw a pelican covered in oil with its head popping out of the water. Yet people were still swimming. There are a lot of stories — stories that boggle the mind — about leeching tailing ponds and accidental spill and the government failing to warn us about environmental dangers.
The government is supposed to monitor the water from the lake because the extractive industries use thousands and thousands of gallons of water in processing. Many doctors are doing independent studies, showing that the water standards are unacceptable. But government is saying the exact opposite. We feel so abandoned by the people we elected and who we pay taxes to.
In the mid-90s people started getting their own water delivered from out of town because we didn’t trust the water in the lake and the government wasn’t doing anything to monitor it. We used to be able to drink water right from the river and our main food staple was fish. We don’t eat fish anymore. Groceries are expensive. Both of my kids were 13 when they shot their first moose but we can’t eat it if it is toxic. And gas is expensive too, even though we are in the midst of oil production facilities.
Places down by the waterfront where we used to dive off the dock into the water have no water anymore. They used to park steam boats there but it is bone dry now. Water levels are low, flood lakes are not flooding. I want to know: Where are the people responsible for taking care of this?
People are dying of cancer and the scariest part is they are getting sick at a younger age. The youngest person to die was 27.
My sons are 13 and 18. I have not let my children go swimming in the lake down the street because of the high level of toxins in the water and in the fish. The local doctor warned us not to let kids swim in the lake. How do I make a decision like that? It is so normal for a child to grow up happy and free but if I allow them to swim they may not live to be adults. Now the only clean swimming hole is a 15 minute drive out of town. It makes parenting very difficult when we’re forced to make tough decisions.
This community is close and everybody knows each other so you feel the impact when something happens. There are a lot of people dying of cancer here. I buried a best friend who died of aggressive cancer. The scariest part is they are getting sick at a younger age. The youngest person to die was 27.
You really start questioning why the government isn’t there to protect us. They are not taking the time to find new, safer ways of doing things. Why can’t the Canadian government build alternative energy? It is very frustrating because people who sit across the table from you are hit with these health problems. I often wonder when my luck is going run out.
How are people in your community fighting the tar sands oil industry?
People in our community are trying to stop what is happening internationally and locally. Local people are speaking out against it at community meetings and going out and protesting. It is a small group, but still people are speaking and local kids are talking about tar sands. Some aboriginal are employed by the tar sands company but none of them will come forward and say anything about the conditions for fear of losing their jobs.
I hope the industry will stop doing what they are doing, take a look at how it’s hurting us, and stop killing us. We can’t live. That’s all we want to do: we want to raise our kids to adulthood, live our lives and be able to take care of the land and wildlife that are so crucial to us.
Nobody thinks about anything but that next dollar but we need to take time to develop something better than what we’ve got. You can’t tell me there isn’t a better way.