No shortage of challenges as Allan Adam reelected ACFN's chief

The environment, health care, an opioid crisis, wildfires and trying to get an all-weather road are some of the challenges facing ACFN.

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As Chief Allan Adam starts his fifth term as leader of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN), there are no shortages of crises facing his community and projects to finish. A major priority will be a closer relationship with the different governments and industry groups in the region, since Fort Chipewyan’s problems are not limited to the northern community.

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“You’ve got the five First Nations here, you’ve got the RMWB, you’ve got the federal and provincial government, you’ve got the Métis, you’ve got industry. They’re all here in this region,” said Adam. “We need to all sit down and talk and work together and towards a better future here. Otherwise we’ll just keep looking at problems and think ‘why can’t we get this done?’”

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The community is “plagued with health problems,” said Adam, and Fort Chipewyan needs more doctors and health specialists. Improvements to local school and more teachers are also needed, although Adam says there have been successes in modernizing education locally.

The Fort Chipewyan area is still recovering from the trauma of last summer’s wildfire evacuation, which caused an evacuation and forced more than 1,000 people to find safety elsewhere. Fort Chipewyan’s leaders must help people recover from the evacuation while planning for the next wildfire season.

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The fire has also worsened an existing mental health and addictions crisis in Fort Chipewyan. Adam and the rest of the Athabasca Tribal Council say suicides, drug overdoses and alcohol killed more people than COVID-19 did in the five First Nations of the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo region.

Environmental issues also continue to be a concern for Adam. ACFN still plans to take the Alberta government and the Alberta Energy Regulator to court following their handling of a tailings leak at Imperial Oil’s Kearl Lake site. He hopes to meet with leaders of Imperial Oil and other oilsands companies to make sure similar incidents do not happen in the future.

Water levels have also dropped around Fort Chipewyan. Adam blames the Site C dam in northern B.C. for the plunging levels of the Athabasca delta.

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ACFN says a permanent, all-weather road connecting Fort Chipewyan either to Fort Smith, NWT or Fort McMurray is critical for Fort Chipewyan’s survival. The community can only be reached by boat or plane if there is no ice road.

The low water levels have become a concern for locals. Warmer winters has shortened how long the road can be used in recent years.

“It’s not going to be an easy task. We need to continue following up with governments and agencies to make sure they understand our position,” said Adam.

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