YouTube video

Fort McKay First Nation, a reservation in northern Canada, is home to nearly 400 Cree, Dene and other indigenous people. It began as a trading post for fur trappers, and the land continued to be used that way until the mid-20th century. In the 1950s and ‘60s, trapping became less profitable, as petroleum operations started to surround the community, extracting oil from the nearby tar sands.

Initially, Fort McKay’s tribal leaders resisted the encroachment, but in the 1980s, they changed direction and decided to go into business with oil companies. Fort McKay’s chief, Dorothy McDonald-Hyde, helped create the first tribe-owned company to service the oil industry. Since 2011, the nation has earned more than $2 billion from its work.

But these profits are not without costs. Elders such as 96-year-old Flora Grandjambe have not forgotten what their land used to look like. When she was raising her children, her family lived off the land – trapping fur for trade, hunting moose to eat and drinking water from the nearby Athabasca River. Today, she says no one can drink or fish out of the river because of pollution from the tar sands.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

David Ritsher is the senior editor for TV and documentaries for Reveal. He has produced and edited award-winning investigative documentaries for over 15 years, on subjects ranging from loose nukes in Russia to Latino gangs in Northern California. His work has appeared on FRONTLINE, PBS NewsHour, ABC News, National Geographic, Discovery, KQED and other national broadcast outlets. Before joining CIR, David was the coordinating producer for FRONTLINE/World for over six broadcast seasons and championed much of its experimentation with video on the web.

Rachel de Leon is a reporter and producer for TV and documentaries for Reveal. De Leon has worked in video for more than 10 years as a videographer and producer. Throughout 2017, she was the coordinating producer for Glassbreaker Films – an initiative from The Center for Investigative Reporting to support female filmmakers – helping to produce five half-hour documentaries for national and festival distribution, and more than 20 online minidocumentaries. In 2016, she won two Emmys for her work on the web series "The Dead Unknown" and the PBS NewsHour segment "Deadly Oil Fields." In 2014, she completed her first short documentary, “Cab City,” for her master’s thesis in the documentary program at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. De Leon is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.