Community Voices

Community Elder, Celina Harpe

Community Elder, Celina Harpe It is my home

What is your favourite memory of Moose Lake?

I remember fishing and going with my Dad and our dog team. My uncle, Hermase had two kids. We used to go put out snares for rabbits and traps for weasels. We loved it there. We had warm clothing. We had a good life - no shortage of anything.

For me it’s a spiritual space. It’s so relaxing, it’s like I’m back home when I’m there. I really, really enjoy going there. That’s where I grew up. That was home for lots of us. I’m 80 years old. I still go up every year by plane with my sisters to go berry picking. It’s our way of life. Me, when I get over there, it’s like I’m home - I can just sleep and relax.

We need responsible energy development that respects our Treaty rights and traditional land uses. Inspired by our past, invested in our future.


Community Elder, Clara Mercer It’s our culture

What’s the importance of Moose Lake?

That’s where I grew up, that’s my home. At Buffalo Lake I feel good. It’s peaceful and I can drink the water there. I can eat the berries. We have family there; all my kids and grandchildren. We teach our grandchildren to go fishing and clean the fish. They go hunting for ducks. We teach them as much as we can about our way of life. This is the only piece of land that is not destroyed by industry. If we have nothing left, we have no way to teach them our culture, our Indian rights.

We need responsible energy development that respects our Treaty rights and traditional land uses. Inspired by our past, invested in our future.

Community Elder, Clara Mercer

Chief Mel Grandjamb

Chief Mel Grandjamb We have to manage together

What are your earliest memories of Moose Lake?

When I was maybe nine or ten, I went with my Dad and my uncles out to the trapline. It was minus 70. I don’t even remember what clothes we had. We didn’t have the fancy parkas we have today. We took a dog team and that’s how we did it for the next two or three years. You had to pack everything you needed for a month– staples like salt, sugar, tea, your clothes, food for us and the dogs. A chocolate bar was a major treat. I spent a lot of time at Moose Lake, Tar Creek, up where CNRL is now. In my family, the emphasis was on hunting and trapping.

What’s your experience been in the oil sands?

I went to high school in McMurray and then two years of college to become a Certified Engineering Technologist. I was trained mostly in construction. When I got back to McKay in ’86 or ’87, I went back into the wilderness, back to Moose Lake. Working for the band, I helped build the first two of the new cabins.

Eventually, I went to work for Syncrude from ’98 to ’03 on the construction side. I worked to open roads, build out sites, on the north mine hydro transport line, and Aurora 1 until they made first froth. I learned a lot of skills I brought back to Fort McKay.

There’s going to be development and we have to learn to share in its benefits without giving up who we are. We have to manage together.

How has Moose Lake been important to you as you got older?

I introduced a young offenders program at Moose Lake. We took at-risk Indigenous youth out of the city, where they were headed for detention centres, into the bush. We stayed at the old camp, and we had an Elder, first aid, a counsellor. Their punishment was getting back to reality, back to basics, back home. Moose Lake brought those boys back home.

Why are you asking for responsible development?

We have to maintain the core essentials at Moose Lake, make sure the berries and plants are the same as they were 100 years ago. That’s important. Maintain habitat not just for moose but for lynx and wolf. Even the air and rain at Moose Lake are important. They’re different. It’s 800 feet higher and everything is clean. You can drink fresh water and eat the fish off the lake. Home is always back in Moose Lake.

Some Elders stay there a month at a time now. I’m hopeful that in 10 or 20 years people are going to be able to live there year-round again. We’ve got a communications link. I want to put in a windmill, get some power. People might be able to use electric heat. But we’ve gotta protect it.

We need responsible energy development that respects our Treaty rights and traditional land uses. Inspired by our past, invested in our future.


Councillor David Bouchier Industry helped me give back to my community

What is your connection with the oil & gas sector?

I started working for Syncrude in the oil sands in 1986, and I worked there for 15 years running equipment. Then I started my own business that has grown past our expectations. If it was not for the oil sands, I would not be able to give back to my community like I can.

When Fort McKay built a hockey arena, I was proud that my company could purchase the first Zamboni. I was able to sponsor hockey teams and hockey camps, buy a new skate sharpener and a time clock for the rink. Last year, we replaced the old Zamboni with a new one. Without industry support, our company would not be able to fund projects like this. Industry has done a lot of good in our community. We’ve been able to adapt, but the lands we hold sacred are almost all gone now. The Moose Lake area is the only place left for us to pass on traditions to our children.

We need responsible energy development that respects our Treaty rights and traditional land uses. Inspired by our past, invested in our future.

Councillor David Bouchier

Councillor Crystal McDonald

Councillor Crystal McDonald It’s for our children

What has Moose Lake meant to your family?

My Grandpa Philip McDonald, who was chief for close to 40 years, and my Granny went to Moose Lake and Buffalo Lake to do their harvesting every fall and winter. They’d take their kids. That’s where his trapline was. Everyone helped with the hunting, fishing, dressing the meat, cleaning the fish. They helped with everything.

My Grandpa passed away just before I was born but I remember going to Moose Lake with my Granny for a week or two starting when I was in Grade Two. She did that for as long as she could, even though, in the end, she had to fly in. My family has a cabin there now in almost the same spot that my grandparents’ place was.

What has Moose Lake meant to Fort McKay?

Partnering with industry has done good things for Fort McKay. We have to acknowledge past leadership for that. They laid the groundwork for us to become a self-sustaining Nation. We are able to offer a lot to our members.

In Fort McKay, industry is on our doorstep. We can’t carry out our culture and use our traditional lands around Fort McKay. Fewer of us have that traditional experience now, though we’re trying hard to recover all of that. But just about everything is already leased to oil sands companies all around Moose Lake, every little bit.

We don’t want to see history repeated, see Moose Lake surrounded on all sides by industry at its borders. It’s really important that we have that piece of land, of history, preserved, like our values, for our children. It’s vital they learn to be proud of their identity. That’s why Moose Lake is so important.


Councillor Raymond Powder Moose Lake is our history

Why is the oil & gas sector important to you?

The energy sector is important because it creates opportunities for my Nation and brings employment, economic development, infrastructure, services and progress. At the end of the day, energy brings many benefits to my community.

My Father passed when I was six, so my Mother had to raise us on her own. She studied Labour Skills at the Alberta Vocational Centre in McMurray and then joined the union and worked in the oil sands. She made a great living for all of us. In the ‘90s, I studied administration in Fort McMurray and worked in several oil sands related jobs. A lot of my family members work in the oil sands in some capacity.

What does Moose Lake mean to you?

My Father and his brothers were hunters and trappers. They lived off the land at Spruce Lake when they were young. Each fall in my youth, we’d go up the Athabasca River to go hunting, fishing and gathering. We slept in a canvas tent and used spruce boughs for bedding. I can still recall their fresh smell. In ’96 I went to Moose Lake for the first time with our traditional skills youth camp.

Being together in a place our ancestors lived off the land thousands of years ago is very important to me. Moose Lake is a living example of our relationship with our history. It touches your heart and teaches respect toward the land.

We need responsible energy development that respects our Treaty rights and traditional land uses. Inspired by our past, invested in our future.

Councillor Raymond Powder

Councillor Melinda Stewart

Councillor Melinda Stewart The land is family, too

How does Moose Lake connect you to your family?

My mom taught me family family connection means, yes, to be connected to your family but also, in our culture, it means to be connected to the animals, plants, land and our history.

The lands in Moose Lake are the training ground for our next generation, where we can share our oral history and pass on knowledge of the plants, medicines and animals. It is where we connect with the land and walk where our ancestors walked.

Why is responsible development important to you?

Responsible development is not a new concept. Traditionally, we always lived in balance. We take no more than the land can regenerate. We recognize and respect the ebbs and flows of nature and understand the negative impacts we can have if we take too much too soon.

When out on the land with my girls, I say “better take a picture,” because the next time we come out it may be gone. Moose Lake is the last place we have to connect with the land the way our ancestors did.

We need responsible energy development that respects our Treaty rights and traditional land uses. Inspired by our past, invested in our future.


Barry Cooper Moose Lake taught me life skills

What is your connection to Moose Lake?

I started going out to Namur Lake when I was 14 years old. There were about a group of 10 young guys from the band that went out that year to learn how to build a cabin. Now, I build houses. That is what I do for work. Those skills I learned at Moose Lake have stuck with me.

For the last five years, I have been going up to Namur Lake every winter. We hunt, fish, and snare out there. A lot of the members are on foot and hunt the traditional way. We were taught at a very young age that we have to learn how to survive on the land. We were taught how to build a fire. How to build a lean-to. How to make a shelter in the snow. How to snare. We had to learn how to live out there in the bush.

Why are you asking for responsible development?

I can't hunt where I learned to hunt. There are fences and signs up there now that say no shooting, but I still need to hunt. I grew up eating wild meat, and the elders live off of traditional foods. If you get three or four a moose a year, you are very lucky and that allows you to share a lot and keep a good amount. But sometimes you have to go out 10 to 14 times before you get even one moose. When industry comes in you, have to move further out to get the moose, and I think the population is declining.

We need responsible energy development that respects our Treaty rights and traditional land uses. Inspired by our past, invested in our future.

Barry Cooper

Jean L’Hommecourt

Jean L’Hommecourt Moose Lake is the book of our history

What does Moose Lake say about your ancestors?

Our ancestors preserved our identity, language, traditional knowledge and culture – without technology, without paper – for thousands of years based solely on lived experience and an oral history. It really inspires me, how they conducted themselves, making sure to pass those things on to their children. We need it to preserve our identity. We need roots; without roots, we’re lost.

You can see how the oil sands industry has brought prosperity to Fort McKay. We’re financially independent, we have better housing, good infrastructure.

But Moose Lake is a very unique area. It’s almost like the water is a life force out there that encourages these rare plants. This boreal forest is different from the Canadian Shield or the Prairies. For thousands of years it has had plentiful fish and game, diverse habitat. The plants we harvest there can’t be found just anywhere – they can’t even be found close to Fort McKay. The Elders know - they called it the land of milk and honey.

We need responsible energy development that respects our Treaty rights and traditional land uses. Inspired by our past, invested in our future.


Chris Wilson The only place we have left

What is one of your earliest memories about the arrival of industry in the region?

To be on traditional lands but not being able to harvest. That is one of my oldest memories of industry. I was 16-years old and I was out hunting and on the way home I stopped to chop and collect firewood for my grandparents by the side of the road. A security guard came by and said I couldn't do that on “their” land. I couldn't believe it. I was told I didn’t belong there. I had been going there since I was young. Doing the same thing, but then all of a sudden, things changed. The guard made me put all the firewood in the ditch. I had to unload the whole truck.

That experience really stuck with me. It had a lasting impression on me. I do not want my children to have those experiences.

I know industry is moving in and I know we have to adapt. I have seen it in the last 20 years. There are employment opportunities, people have jobs, and work. We are grateful for that, but this is our area for hunting and gathering. Now, there is not much that we have left.

We need responsible energy development that respects our Treaty rights and traditional land uses. Inspired by our past, invested in our future.

Chris Wilson

Lee Wilson

Lee Wilson Our way of life

Why is the Moose Lake Plan important to you?

Namur Lake is the place of my family. We didn't just claim rights to the land in the last 10-15 years. We have been here for generations.

Hunting provides food for my children. I hunt one or two moose a year. This is a good amount of moose meat for my family, but I also share with the elders. That is part of our culture, when you go hunting and fishing, it is for the whole community.

How has industry development impacted your way of life?

I don't hunt where there is noise or gates. If there are people and activity is going on in the area, you have to avoid the whole area for safety reasons. You follow the animals and they don't have boundaries except for when they hit industry.

I know Prosper was out at Buffalo Lake a couple of years ago. If there are to be activities at Moose Lake, I want industry to understand the impacts of their project on me and my family. They need to understand that the wildlife, fish, and water -- it is a way of life.

We need responsible energy development that respects our Treaty rights and traditional land uses. Inspired by our past, invested in our future.


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