News News Stories Missing and murdered Aboriginal women remembered2012-10-09T12:00:00+00:00Meagan Wohlberg/blog/author/meaganwohlberg/<p><img alt="" src="/media/uploads/S0864562.tif-0.jpg"></p> <blockquote> <p><em>photo by Bradley Saulteaux</em></p> </blockquote> <p>For two years, the family and friends of the late Amber Alyssa Tuccaro spent every day not knowing what had happened to her. She had been at a hotel in Edmonton in August 2010 when she vanished.</p> <p>Last month, her body was finally returned home to Fort Chipewyan after being discovered in a field near Leduc on Sept. 4. That brought some peace to her loved ones who were able to finally put her to rest on Sept. 28. An investigation into her death, which is being considered suspicious, is ongoing.</p> <p>The questions of why and how this happened still linger, and those in the community want to see an end to the violence that has led to over 500 missing Aboriginal women across the country.</p> <p>“We have to stop this violence,” Chief Steve Courtoreille of the Mikisew Cree First Nation in Fort Chipewyan told the crowd at the Stolen Sisters Awareness Walk in Edmonton on Saturday. “This starts at home, how we teach our children to be respectful to one another, to their mothers, their grandmothers.</p> <p>“There’s women that are missing from my First Nation. A young lady was found just recently, and that was the toughest thing I had to face as a leader - to show strength and support to the family, to show that I care. I had to make changes in my life in order for me to be a better person,” he said.</p> <p>“The traditional role of men as protectors must be brought back.”</p> <p>Speaking alongside Chief Courtoreille at Edmonton City Hall were Amber’s family and the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, who came to pay his respects and offer himself as a “cane” to those needing support.</p> <p>“In the past few months, there have been discoveries of several murdered, missing Aboriginal women in Alberta. My condolences go to the families,” he said.</p> <p>Atleo said the issue remains a top priority for the AFN. This summer, leaders at the assembly’s annual general meeting vowed to live violence-free “in their hearts and homes,” and got the premiers of all provinces and territories to sign on to addressing the issue. But, he said, more work needs to be done to get all agencies to recognize the seriousness of the issue.</p> <p>“We must continue to address the jurisdictional police barriers and increase cultural awareness and sensitivity of officers and agencies investigating these cases, so they are alive to the fact that indigenous women and girls have a sacred responsibility to their families and are, in fact, the strength of our communities,” he said.</p> <p>Around 160 vigils and marches were held across the country last week to honour and bring awareness to missing and murdered Aboriginal women, including a candlelight vigil in Fort Smith, NWT on Thursday evening.</p> <p>Around 30 people gathered to pray, share stories of loss and sign a petition calling for a national inquiry into missing Aboriginal women.</p> <p>Marilyn Napier, president of the Native Women’s Association of the NWT, said there is strength in unity.</p> <p>“As women, as the givers of life, we have a great responsibility to ensure the well-being and safety of our mothers, daughters, sisters, aunties and grandmothers,” she said. “Our men also have an important role to play as our supports and in ending the cycles of violence. Our leaders are strong and they are supporting this issue. We need to work together. As a society, Canadians are also coming out to stand alongside us in solidarity. This is why we do this work. This is why we are here today. This is why we are committed to moving this issue forward.”</p>Low-level flight frightens Fort Chipewyan2012-08-14T12:00:00+00:00Meagan Wohlberg/blog/author/meaganwohlberg/<p class="p1"><img alt="" height="1775" src="/media/uploads/flightpath2.jpg" width="2048"></p> <blockquote> <p class="p1"><em>The alleged flight path of Flight 304, as recalled by witnesses.</em></p> </blockquote> <p class="p1"> </p> <p class="p1">Witnesses who say they saw a plane flying dangerously low over the community of Fort Chipewyan last week have submitted a formal complaint looking for disciplinary action to be taken against the pilot.</p> <p class="p1">The flight in question was a McMurray Aviation "Caravan" freight plane heading from Fort Chipewyan to Fort McMurray at 11:54 a.m. on Thursday. There were no passengers on board.</p> <p class="p1">Witnesses said the pilot flew too low and maneuvered dangerously close to the Mikisew Cree First Nation (MCFN) Business Centre and the Fort Petroleum Ltd. Partnership offices and fuel tanks.<br> <br> "The aircraft was nearly in a 90 degree bank with the top of the plane facing the Business Centre (the wings were almost vertical)," states the report. "During the flight, the plane was constantly descending until...the aircraft was at the lowest altitude, just above the tops of the trees."<br> <br> Witnesses claim the plane was a single engine, single-winged aircraft with yellow and black stripes down the side, consistent with the design of McMurray Aviation.<br> <br> MCFN communications officer Bradley Saulteaux was one of six witnesses who signed the official report. He said the incident raises immediate concerns about the safety of passengers and communities below.<br> <br> "I feel that McMurray Aviation does not care about the safety of the passengers or the communities they serve," he told <em>The Journal</em>. "Air travel carries our elders, our sick and our children more often than our healthy. Careless and unsafe flight leaves the passengers with fear that lasts a lifetime, and with air travel being such a huge part of life in these communities, we are only making life worse for those who are afraid to see a doctor because they have to board a plane."<br> <br> Saulteaux said he immediately contacted both the owner and general manager of McMurray Aviation to report the incident. He claims both denied any occurrence of low-level flight.<br> <br> "Flat out denying that any of Aviation's planes were in the area makes me feel that the company is based on lies instead of virtues," he said.<br> <br> Saulteaux sent a report of the incident to McMurray Aviation and is demanding both an apology and the suspension of the pilot. <br> <br> "If not, it's going to Transportation Canada," he said.<br> <br> McMurray Aviation owner and CEO Wade Komarinsky confirmed the company had a departing flight in the area at that time, but said the company is still investigating the allegations internally.<br> <br> "I've got two conflicting sides of the story, so I'm in the process of determining the validity of the allegations," he told <em>The Journal</em>, adding that there was a low-level survey plane from another airline doing duck surveys in the area that day, as well. <br> <br> He said he would compare the pilot's flight trajectory with the one claimed by witnesses on the ground.<br> <br> "(The witnesses) said a 90 degree turn; the pilot said maybe a 30-45 degree bank. And from the ground, the perspective does look a lot different," Komarinsky said.<br> <br> If the investigation shows the pilot violated regulations, Komarinsky said disciplinary action could be taken.<br> <br> "It varies depending on what the incident is," he said. "It could be a time-off penalty to more of a disciplinary or dismissal type of thing with a file being transferred on to Transport Canada for enforcement if he committed a serious violation."</p> <h2 class="p1"><strong>Not the first complaint</strong></h2> <p class="p1">The witnesses' official complaint contains reference to several previous allegations against McMurray Aviation regarding safety violations, including reports of pilots flying through dangerous conditions, like low ceiling and forest fire zones, pulling similar "dangerous stunts" close to Fort Chipewyan, as well as an alleged incident where a civilian passenger piloted a plane from the copilot seat with others on board.<br> <br> Komarinsky said those allegations have already been dealt with.<br> <br> "A lot of the stuff that has been reported has already been investigated by Transport Canada, and in a lot of the cases, the pilot did take the appropriate action," he said. <br> <br> "The civilian flying thing was reported to us through our internal safety management system, and passengers do occupy the front copilot seat, but they do not have control of the aircraft," he said, noting that does not go against regulations. "The pilot never releases control of the aircraft."<br> <br> The forest fire incident was an issue of traffic avoidance with an aircraft, he added.</p>Fort Chipewyan going solar2012-07-03T12:00:00+00:00Meagan Wohlberg/blog/author/meaganwohlberg/<p> <img alt="" height="1365" src="/media/uploads/278115_167569650041444_1939190091_o.jpg" width="2048"></p> <p>The community of Fort Chipewyan is embracing the power of the Sun in hopes that solar panels will reduce the cost of living and be an environmental alternative to their fuel-based power and heating systems.</p> <p>This summer, two pilot projects will see a home in the community and cabins on the land converted to solar energy, to be ready to go this fall.</p> <p>Residents of Fort Chip first embarked on their quest for clean energy last fall when a team of community members, now called the Fort Chip Alternative Energy Project, partnered with local environmental organization Keepers of the Athabasca to investigate alternative energy potentials for the isolated hamlet in northern Alberta.</p> <p>After sparking a great deal of interest, the groups met again last Monday, bringing in an on-grid solar consultant from Anzac and a local trapper running off-the-grid solar at his cabin to the community for some discussion. According to Jesse Cardinal of Keepers of the Athabasca, attendees didn't want to waste any time getting to work on the project.</p> <p>"We're doing a short-term, small project that we're going to get up and running in the next couple of months," she told The Journal. "One is a home in the community set up on solar on the grid, and then we are going to look at the cabin that's off-grid and work with the trapper who's already put two years into it and use his cabin as a pilot project to build up a really good working system of off-grid solar living - to use his cabin as a model."</p> <p>Cardinal said the idea behind the project is to inspire and educate the community about the potential benefits of solar energy.</p> <p>"The purpose of it is to have a home in the community so people can see what it looks like, how it runs and what the benefits of it are, so that they then want their home on solar," she said. "Alberta has the largest solar capability out of all the provinces in all of Canada. The amount of sun that we get could power all of Alberta."</p> <p>An elder in the community has offered her home up as the guinea pig for the project, but details are still being finalized. Though the intention is to eventually have as many people on solar as possible in the community - for environmental and financial reasons - the first attempt will be to work with an elder.</p> <p>"When we had our initial meetings, we had elders come forward and tell us about the cost of their power bills and how hard it is just to pay their bills. If you look at an elder who lives, possibly, just on pension, half of their income, if not more, is going to power and heat. So, the initial intent of switching to solar is to get to net zero, so they may not make a profit, but they will have no power bill, because the cost of living up north is ridiculous," Cardinal said.</p> <p>Interested members of the community will select a contractor to do installation and assessments of the home for energy efficiency in the next few weeks. They'll also be bringing in an expert on off-the-grid solar to assist with setting up the cabins.</p> <p>The team will also be working on securing funding from all levels of government for the project, which is intended to be a long-term endeavour led by the community.</p> <p>"This is just the initial stage," Cardinal said. "This is an introduction to the community of Fort Chip on alternative energy. What we're doing now is just getting a short-term project up and going to get the mindset of alternative energy out there, but the feasibility is a long-term project where we're going to be bringing in experts to identify the possibilities of other energy potential - what would be best suited for Fort Chip: Is it wind? Is it solar? Is it small-scale hydro? So we'll have experts coming in to assess, and then we'll present that to the community.</p> <p>"As we go along, we're gaining more and more community interest. So we want more people involved in the decision-making and hopefully have leadership involved, that they can provide funds as well."</p>Seniors care home in the works for Fort Chip2012-04-24T12:00:00+00:00Meagan Wohlberg/blog/author/meaganwohlberg/<p><img alt="" height="262" src="/media/uploads/Elders%20Care%20Facility/4-24-2012-9-58-45-AM-4953973.gif" width="400"></p> <blockquote> <p><em>The floor plan for the proposed long-term care facility for elders in the community of Fort Chipewyan was designed by Western Health Planning Associates Ltd. The new facility will be located in the old nursing station and is expected to be fully operational by autumn 2014</em></p> </blockquote> <p>Elders in Fort Chipewyan may at long last be able to spend their final days in their home community rather than in larger centres, now that a long-term care home for seniors is being developed.</p> <p>Led by Mikisew Cree First Nation (MCFN) and the Wood Buffalo Housing &amp; Development Corp. (WBHDC), the proposed plan for seniors housing entails redeveloping the community's old nursing station into a long-term/continuing care home with palliative care capabilities, as well as adding supportive capacity to the existing Ayabaskaw Lodge seniors home. <br><em><br></em>Western Health Planning Associates Ltd., commissioned to do the assessment, recommended converting the MCFN-owned nursing station into a 12-bed facility, along with adding six supportive living beds - for those who need a bit of daily living support - to Ayabaskaw alongside their existing 10 independent living suites.<br><br>The entire project is expected to cost the province just over $8 million and be officially operational by November 2014. <br><br>George Poitras, CEO of MCFN, said the First Nation decided to buy the nursing station from Health Canada for the project due to the high need for such a facility in the community.<br><br>"Mikisew Cree First Nation is the biggest population in Fort Chipewyan and we have a lot of elders," he said. "Most of our seniors, when they become incapacitated, end up in Fort McMurray in the hospital on the fourth floor and they end up leaving us there. We want to give our seniors the comfort of being home and being around family. And that's not just important for Mikisew, but for Athabasca Chipewyan and the Métis as well."<br><br>Poitras said the conversion of the two existing facilities is the best option for the community in the short to mid term.<br><br>"These are existing, sound structures and so the potential to use them is very real," he said, noting the buildings would last up to another 40 years. "We own these facilities, so for the short term, this option will take the least amount of time with the least cost."<br><br>The community has also been looking at developing some lakefront property for a brand new long-term care facility for several decades, which Poitras said continues to be a long-term vision.<br><br>The proposal and recommendations were presented to community members, including chiefs from both MCFN and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, the local Métis president, representatives from Nunee Health Authority, Wood Buffalo Mayor Melissa Blake and a provincial rep from Alberta Seniors last Monday. Poitras said the project has support from all parties.<br><br>"Everybody's on board. There have been a lot of positive outcomes, a lot of happy community members, especially elders," he said.<br><br>Ayabaskaw home operator Claris Voyageur is happy to see the project, which has been a long time coming, finally off the ground.<br><br>"My word to this is it's long overdue," she said. "Our seniors built this community; it's time to give back. They need love and care now, not devotion at death. We've had too many seniors that had to move south for the care. It's gonna be 25 years July 1 for me here at Ayabaskaw home. I've seen many seniors come and go, even had some die in my arms."<br><br>The Nunee Health Authority will be coordinating the medical services involved in the project. Mike Mercredi, special projects coordinator for the authority, said having a long-term care facility in the community will cut a lot of the hidden costs of the current operation, which sees elders and their families transported to hospitals in Fort McMurray and Edmonton when they near the end of their lives, and ultimately make life easier for the aging in the community.<br><br>"When they have someone who's going to be reaching their final moments, they fly out the family and then they house the family out there," he said. "So they're staying in hotels or rentals until their loved ones pass, and then they send them all back. This is going to help alleviate some of that cost. If their family's here, there's no flying anyone out, and the people are welcome to come and go to be with their loved ones in their final moments."<br><br>As well, Mercredi said, the care facility will have the capacity to offer services for community members with mental disabilities, and will function as a meeting place for people of all ages, with a cultural room and other social spaces.<br><br>"Since it's going to be here in the community, more people can have a place to go - another place for elders to go who aren't there. They can come and hang out," he said. "You're going to have a lot of people who are going to be willing to go there for a coffee in the mornings and have their morning chats and that."<br><br>MCFN has indicated other funding sources, such as industry, may be approached to help foot the bill alongside provincial funding.</p>