TORONTO – He survived Canada’s notoriously abusive schools for indigenous children and then led his own nation. He fought against governments and oil giants to pollute his traditional territory and earned him the praise and admiration of Desmond Tutu, Greta Thunburg, and celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio.
But when police officer Allan Adam, the outspoken leader of one of the Canadian First Nations, worked together twice, put him on the sidewalk and hit him over an expired license plate, he said they treated him as if he was unvoiced and powerless.
“You did it to the chief. Not just any boss, ”said Adam, the leader of the 1,200-strong Dene Nation in northern Alberta that fought for their rights amid an oil boom in their territory. He was known for “not withdrawing from a fight”.
“You shouldn’t have chosen me,” said Mr. Adam in a phone interview from his home in Fort Chipewyan on remote Lake Athabasca. “You made a mistake.”
Mr. Adam was accused of attacking a police officer and opposing the arrest. The charges against him on Wednesday have been dropped.
Videos of police officers who beat an unarmed man not only led to an investigation of the officers involved, but also to outrage across Canada. The demand for a revision of the country’s police system, which detains indigenous and black people, is growing high disproportionate prices.
“We need to seriously open the eyes of any non-native Canadian to the realities we have had to live with as indigenous people in the country for decades,” Adam said at a press conference last week.
Mr. Adam was the youngest of 11 children. His father was a hunter and trapper who supported the family by fishing and harvesting fur.
Shortly before his 6th birthday, Mr. Adam was dropped off in a brick building on the outskirts of the city: the Holy Angels residential school. His three years there are still too painful to discuss, he said in an interview.
Although the schools were largely founded by orders, the Canadian government has used them for more than 160 years to violently assimilate indigenous children and remove them from their families and cultures.
A national truth and reconciliation commission declared them five years ago to be instruments of “cultural genocide” a report that documented widespread physical and sexual abuse and thousands of deaths.
“When I think of a dorm school, I think of death, rape and physical abuse,” said Mr. Adam, who lost fluency in his native Denesulin language while at school, where he feared being beaten for speaking it.
“Terrible stories I’ve suffered from nuns, priests, and school teachers,” he said.
Mr. Adam said that he started drinking and smoking at the age of 9 after he left. Most of his classmates from that time were dead.
Reconnecting to the country saved his life, said Mr. Adam.
When he was a child, his parents took him to the boreal forest five months a year and taught him how to fish, catch and hunt.
His father taught him to shoot an elk during the mating season by standing still in the dark and waiting for the crackling sound of the animal approaching.
“I still can’t master it today,” he said with a laugh.
“I wouldn’t be here today without the country,” said 53-year-old Adam, now father of five children and grandfather of twelve. He added: “It taught me to become human again. ”
After the seventh grade, Mr. Adam left school and said, “When the trauma came back.” Among other things, he worked as a fireman and truck driver as well as for the housing authority in his country. He said he went to prison four times for assault, because he would not withdraw from a fight.
“I’ve been run over so many times in life that I won’t let it happen again,” he said. “What the residential school did to me, I will not let my children happen.”
He found his calling when he was elected to the government of his nation, which has land in central Canada around Lake Athabasca and the Athabasca River.
Four years later, in 2007, he was elected head of an economic development platform to take advantage of the nearby upstream oil sands, which had grown from a single mine to a vast landscape of chimneys and tailings ponds in his childhood.
A few weeks after his election, Mr. Adam took part in a city meeting where a researcher reported in detail its troubling results on local water quality: increased levels of carcinogens and toxic substances such as arsenic and mercury.
A local resounded medical warning on the incidence of rare cancers in the city.
I thought, ‘Oh, wow. There is the economic plan, ”said Adam.
Soon after, he and his council began their first lawsuit against the government, saying that recently granted oil sands contracts in their area should be terminated because they were made available without consulting local indigenous communities.
You have lost the case, but it has earned the reputation of being an outspoken boss who would not back away.
Over the next ten years, he helped take more than a dozen legal steps and hold conferences and protests.
“He steps forward when he has to, ”he said Melody Lepine, the director of government and industry relations for the Mikisew Cree First Nation, also near Fort Chipewyan. “He is not afraid of doing the right thing and being vocal.”
Mr. Adam has become a favorite with people working against pollution and climate change, for which Canada’s oil sands have become a growing symbol.
Tzeporah Berman first met him in 2008 with Canadian actress Neve Campbell.
“What he has consistently done is to bring up-to-date scientific information about air and water toxins and human health effects and bring them into decades-long lawsuits,” said Ms. Berman, a Canadian environmentalist who works to protect the climate and led energy campaign by Greenpeace. “In the meantime, development is penetrating their country more and more.”
In 2014, Mr. Adam went on a Canada tour with Neil Young and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for his lawsuits. Soon afterwards, Mr. DiCaprio Visited and offered to fund the community’s water monitoring program.
“He wanted me to play a role in his film” The Revenant “,” said Adam. I said, ‘No, Leo. I will not do it. I have a choice next year. “
“It was a good movie,” added Adam. “Long in some parts, but good.”
His activism also made him enemies.
Right-wing media and oil lobby groups described him as a “prop”. His lawyer said he was regularly faced with angry oil sand workers at Fort McMurray, where Mr. Adam bought a second home from the Canadian government-owned housing development. There were death threats, said Mr. Adam.
In 2018, Mr. Adam was criticized for the opposite reason: to sign a contract The area he has maintained for a long time was to be protected with Teck Resources to build the largest oil sand mine to date.
At the time, he said, he was both broken and exhausted from fighting the system with no tangible results. At least that way, his people would get some benefits and a place at the table.
Teck withdrew his application earlier this year unresolved debate in Canada on climate change and resource extraction.
“If I had known all the time that we only had to agree to these projects, we would have agreed on it a long time ago,” said Adam, laughing.
“This is the gray area where he has to dance all the time,” said Eriel Deranger, who until 2017 was Mr. Adam’s communication coordinator. “It is total hypocrisy imposed on our nation.”
Mr. Adam had previously signed agreements with mining companies to receive financial benefits and environmental guarantees. This money has been put into projects like a grocery store in Fort Chipewyan, but also in a long-term trust that he hopes will be used to buy a new home for his nation.
“Our people will be environmental refugees,” said Adam, because the country is so polluted by the oil industry. “I think we have 25 years left.”