Grabbing my camera and gear, I hopped into the Jeep with the other members of the hunting party. We were off to spend another cold February evening in search of moose on the back roads of the Athabasca Oil Sands near Fort McKay First Nation.
It was 2012 and I had been living in the Northern Alberta community for nearly four months. A Canada Council for the Arts grant brought me here to photograph the relationship between resource development and First Nations people.
I was welcomed by a community that was deeply connected to the land while grappling with the contradictions of an oil industry that was destroying it.
We approached the gates of Canadian Natural Resources Limited. IDs were checked. Only First Nations people had the right to hunt on these traditional lands.
We followed the road past a giant open pit mine into the boreal forest. After navigating numerous forks in the road we started to wonder if we should head back. Then, in the lights of an oncoming truck, we saw the dark silhouette of a cow moose.
Gabe Desjarlais, the leader of our party, jumped out of the Jeep with his rifle; the light was low and the moose was now in the trees.
He took aim and fired, the sharp crack echoing through the forest. My heart was beating like a jackhammer. Suddenly, Gabe swung in the other direction and raised his rifle again. He fired. A second moose fell in the snow. I approached the first moose. Lying on its side, I placed my hand on its warm body as it released its final breaths. There were no signs of struggle; I felt like the animal was offering itself to us. We gave tobacco to show our thanks to the Creator and a connection to the natural world unlike anything I had ever experienced overtook me.
After a long night of trying to photograph in the dark, helping to butcher the animals and hauling the meat, we cooked a delicious meal. In the following days, I shared the meat with community Elders who opened their doors to share their stories with me.
After this experience, I would go on to tell more stories of Indigenous cultures with my camera. Recently, I’ve been travelling the rivers of the Amazon rainforest documenting life in the shadow of Brazil’s hydroelectric development.
The work is hard and the stories are often sad, but I’m grateful to be doing what I love.