Ian Willms

Ian Willms (b. Canada, 1985) is a founding member of the Boreal Collective and wandering documentary photographer who is loosely based in Toronto. His photography practice primarily resides within the gulf between journalism and contemporary art. From the baking highways of the American southwest, to the frozen railways of Siberia, Willms strives to communicate the emotional environment surrounding his subjects through a lyrical approach to photography. The indelible nature of passing time and the conflict of inevitable compromise are common threads that run throughout Willms’ longterm photo essays. Willms holds an Honours Diploma in Photojournalism and is a previous recipient of the Reportage by Getty Images Emerging Talent mentorship.  Today we share his series, As Long as the Sun Shines.

Lights from a Shell oil sands development seen through Boreal Forest, near Fort McKay.

Lights from a Shell oil sands development seen through Boreal Forest, near Fort McKay.

Raymond Ladoueur, a commercial fisherman throws his catch to his sled dogs, in Fort Chipewyan. As recently as the 1970s, the residents of Fort Chipewyan would drink the water directly from Lake Athabasca. Today, the fish from the lake have been deemed unfit for human consumption due to industrial pollution in the environment.

Raymond Ladoueur, a commercial fisherman throws his catch to his sled dogs, in Fort Chipewyan. As recently as the 1970s, the residents of Fort Chipewyan would drink the water directly from Lake Athabasca. Today, the fish from the lake have been deemed unfit for human consumption due to industrial pollution in the environment.

A member of the Fort McKay First Nation looks out upon the lights from oil sands industry sites that now surround her former traditional hunting territory. The Fort McKay First Nation has leased out large swaths of their territory for oil sands developments, which has devastated local hunting, fur trapping and fishing practices.

A member of the Fort McKay First Nation looks out upon the lights from oil sands industry sites that now surround her former traditional hunting territory. The Fort McKay First Nation has leased out large swaths of their territory for oil sands developments, which has devastated local hunting, fur trapping and fishing practices.

As Long as the Sun Shines (Alberta, Canada; 2010-2012)

Within traditional Indigenous communities, the health of the people is intrinsically linked to the health of the surrounding environment. In 1899, Treaty 8 was signed by the Queen of England and 39 Indigenous bands in northern Canada. The signing chiefs were assured that their land, culture and traditional means of survival through hunting, fishing and fur trapping, would be preserved and respected for “as long the sun shines”.

An elder makes dry fish at his trapping cabin, near Fort Chipewyan. This traditional process involves hanging fish fillets over a smouldering fire for a number of days until they are completely dehydrated. Then they usually eaten plain or with butter. The same preparation is also used for moose meat.

An elder makes dry fish at his trapping cabin, near Fort Chipewyan. This traditional process involves hanging fish fillets over a smouldering fire for a number of days until they are completely dehydrated. Then they usually eaten plain or with butter. The same preparation is also used for moose meat.

The Syncrude Oil Sands plant, located on Fort McKay First Nation territory, near Fort McKay.

The Syncrude Oil Sands plant, located on Fort McKay First Nation territory, near Fort McKay.

Today, the Canadian government is leasing out 141,000 square kilometres (54,000 sq mi) of indigenous territory to the world’s largest energy corporations in order to develop Canada’s Oil Sands. The Oil Sands are currently considered to be the third largest oil deposits on Earth and are worth an estimated $1.7 trillion to Canada’s GDP over the next 20 years. While the economic benefits are plentiful, the environmental and cultural toll is dramatic.

After thousands of years of surviving from the land, the Indigenous communities of Fort Chipewyan and Fort McKay now find themselves in the middle of an unfamiliar, shifting landscape. How they choose to move forward as a community will irrevocably alter the future of their identity, ecology, and economy.

A map of the Wood Buffalo Region of Northern Alberta. Fort Chipewyan is located near the middle of the map, on the orange-coloured quadrant.

A map of the Wood Buffalo Region of Northern Alberta. Fort Chipewyan is located near the middle of the map, on the orange-coloured quadrant.

Nadia Bouchier and her son Dylan, of the Fort McKay First Nation, share a loving embrace one morning, in Fort McKay.

Nadia Bouchier and her son Dylan, of the Fort McKay First Nation, share a loving embrace one morning, in Fort McKay.

A typical living room in Fort Chipewyan shows a dichotomy between modern comforts and traditional indigenous culture. Industrial developments in the region have brought some money luxuries to the reserve.

A typical living room in Fort Chipewyan shows a dichotomy between modern comforts and traditional indigenous culture. Industrial developments in the region have brought some money luxuries to the reserve.

Chelsea and Wade say goodbye to their infant daughter, during her wake, in Fort McKay. Chelsea suffered a miscarriage five months into her pregnancy. Cancer, stillbirths, miscarriages and other serious health problems are prevalent in Fort McKay and Fort Chipewyan. While the cause is uncertain, local healthcare professionals have been sounding alarms over pollution levels and calling for an in-depth health study for many years.

Chelsea and Wade say goodbye to their infant daughter, during her wake, in Fort McKay. Chelsea suffered a miscarriage five months into her pregnancy. Cancer, stillbirths, miscarriages and other serious health problems are prevalent in Fort McKay and Fort Chipewyan. While the cause is uncertain, local healthcare professionals have been sounding alarms over pollution levels and calling for an in-depth health study for many years.

As a freelance photographer, Willms has contributed to The New York Times, The Guardian Magazine, TIME, The New Yorker, The Walrus and the NGOs Greenpeace and Oxfam. His works have been supported by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council and exhibited at O’Born Contemporary, Photoville, CONTACT Gallery, Gallery 44 Centre forContemporary Photography and the Museum of Photographic Arts.

To view more of Willm’s work, please visit his website.



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