Lens Blog: First Nations threatened by tar sands development

The Lens blog of The New York Times interviews photographer Ian Willms about his work on the effects of tar sands development on First Nations in Alberta:
Q. How did this project start?
A. When I graduated from school in 2008 I was hearing a lot about the oil sands in Canada. So I started doing research, and the more I learned, the more horrified I became.

I read a CBC article about cancer rates in indigenous communities that immediately surrounded the oil sands, and I knew right then that was exactly what I had to do. I searched pretty thoroughly for anybody who had done a proper photo story on the community, and I couldn’t find anything that was particularly in-depth.

Q. What did you find when you got there?
A. I found a community that was far more developed economically than I had expected. There was a lot of infrastructure, and the homes were more modern than most First Nations communities. That has a lot to do with the proximity to the oil sands and the economic benefit that comes with that.

But the community is still struggling. First Nation reserves are still very dark and damaged places in many ways, and in other ways, they’re incredibly vibrant. So it was not as bleak as I expected it to be. If you didn’t already know that their water was basically coming off of a storm pipe of one of the largest polluting industrial projects in the world, you wouldn’t.

Get the Story:
Lens: An Indigenous Way of Life Threatened by Oil Sands in Canada (The New York Times 7/30)

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