After spreading word of the colonial persecution of a tribe of blue aliens on a natural-resource-rich planet called Pandora, James Cameron has been focusing his environmental activism closer to home. In April, the “Avatar” director pledged to assist Brazilian tribes in their fight against the construction of a controversial dam project, and now he has committed to helping aboriginal peoples in Canada take legal action in connection with pollution from oil development.
Cameron, who was born in Ontario, Canada, met privately with aboriginal leaders and residents of Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, on Tuesday to discuss the community’s concerns about the connection between high cancer rates and water, air and wildlife pollution stemming from ongoing exploration and extraction of oil sands, according to The Vancouver Sun.
“I will be meeting with [Alberta] Premier [Ed] Stelmach tomorrow and I will be doing a press conference afterwards to get the word out there about what’s happening here,” he told the paper. “Hopefully we can make a difference and get things moving in the right direction. It’s going to be a fight, as I’m sure you know. But if you all stand together and work together with the other First Nations, I think we can draw a line in the sand here.”
Fort Chipewyan residents have long complained about high rates of cancer and other illnesses they say stem from oil-sands development and are planning legal action against the provincial and federal governments. In 2009, the Sun reports, the Alberta Cancer Board announced that Fort Chipewyan residents had experienced 30 percent more cancer cases than normal, though the community’s small population might have rendered that rate a statistical anomaly. The Alberta government has denied that oil-industry activities have negatively impacted communities downstream from development sites.
The extent of Cameron’s assistance is still being determined. In addition to his meeting with government officials and the media attention that his presence attracts, the Oscar winner might directly contribute to legal efforts or help with a fundraising drive.
“There’s a big imperative for them to get this tar-sands oil right,” Cameron said. “We’re not saying they have to stop development, we’re not saying they have to take the jobs away. We’re just saying they’ve got to do it right. They’ve got to do it in a way that’s responsible. Responsible development, responsible to the environment and responsible to the people directly affected by it. That’s not a lot to ask. There’s a lot of money at stake here, and they should spend some of it to fix this problem.”
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