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“As Long as the Sun Shines” explores the intersection of climate change and the legacy of settler colonialism on which Canada was founded. The colonization of the Indigenous peoples of Canada is usually seen as an event that occurred centuries ago, and is incorrectly contextualized in a past no longer related to our future. The truth is that Canada’s “slow-motion cultural genocide” still lives on in the form of environmental racism.

Industrial development of Indigenous territories, disguised as “economic opportunity,” has inflicted ecological damage on communities across Canada. After centuries of oppression, most of Canada’s First Nations are financially dependent on the federal government and suffer from multiple and inter-related social issues. The capacity of First Nations to stand up to industry is limited, and the legal system is biased against them. Communities which cooperate with industry receive economic benefits and greater powers to protect specific slivers of their territory. But the trade-off is bitter and far-reaching.

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This project zooms in on this destruction as experienced at a daily and intimate level, destruction occurring in the shadow of an industry so large it can be seen from space.

On reserves across Canada, widespread ecological damage and contamination make it impossible for Indigenous peoples to live off the land and achieve a sustainable livelihood in environments that have nurtured their lives for centuries. Cancer clusters, rare cancers, birth defects, lupus and other health problems occur at alarmingly high rates. Intense forest fires, driven by climate change, devastate land not yet impacted by industrial development.

The Canadian oil sands are the largest, most environmentally destructive oil development on Earth, and the industry is often cited in the global battle on climate change. Infrastructure for the extraction of oil sands stretches across Canada, affecting hundreds of Indigenous communities. With traditional economies of hunting and fishing now decimated, members of First Nation communities have no other option but to work for the very industries that are destroying their land and culture. In Fort Chipewyan, locals describe this process as “slow-motion cultural genocide,” while the nearby oil industry city of Fort McMurray has benefited from decades of exceptional economic growth.

Ecological destruction is now deepening racial and economic wounds within contemporary society, thus perpetuating old systems of assimilation through dominance.

Ian Willms

The agreement concluded by the monarch and First Nations people in 1899 (Treaty 8) covered an area that is home to 39 First Nation communities and included the region where oil sands are now mined. The spirit of such treaties was that they should last “as long the sun shines.”

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Ian Willms

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