When Jane Fonda flew over the oilsands with local First Nations and activists from Greenpeace Tuesday morning, she told a CBC reporter it was like “someone took my skin and peeled it off my body over a very large surface.”
“I hurt. It made my body ache to watch it,” she said from the parking lot of a Moxie’s in downtown Fort McMurray.
Robbie Picard, founder of the local booster group Oil Sands Strong, was having lunch at that same Moxie’s when he saw her and followed her to the interview. When he heard that answer, he said he had to interrupt with his own arguments.
“Are you aware that Jim Boucher from the Fort McKay First Nation just (invested) $250 million into the oilsands? Are you aware there’s 289 aboriginal businesses?” he said, recording the experience on his smartphone.
When her hosts led her away from the interview, Picard argued with the activists themselves. Picard’s friend, Susan Plamondon, demanded Fonda speak to people struggling to find work and aboriginal people that lost their homes in the fire.
“Well I sure hope that your report on Fort McMurray is a pleasant one and not just bashing us,” Plamondon said. “We are hurting here.”
Fonda responded she is not trying to bash anyone’s livelihood.
“We will no longer just tolerate celebrities coming here for a day to take a ride over the oilsands and attack us,” Picard said later in an interview.
“As she was talking, I thought clearly she is not being informed about the good things industry is doing like reclamation. Unfortunately, they ran off.”
Greenpeace Canada is hosting an event at the University of Alberta in Edmonton Wednesday night, featuring Fonda and several speakers to discuss energy development and indigenous rights.
Fonda arrived in Fort McMurray Monday evening and did an aerial tour of the oilsands Tuesday.
With the exception of the one CBC interview, tour organizers did not allow media access, but social media posts indicate she met Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs.
A spokesperson with the Fort McKay First Nation confirmed she was visiting the community, but they were not commenting on the visit.
Fonda is the latest celebrity to tour the oilsands, following highly-publicized visits by Neil Young and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Picard said when it comes to celebrity activists touring the area, history shows they usually don’t leave with a positive perception.
The perspective of those living in Fort McMurray, he feels, deserve as much time in the spotlight as environmental concerns.
“After the disaster and aftermath of the visits from people like Neil Young, we can’t assume anything about anyone,” he said.
“We have to try and have a fair, balanced conversation with people with influence coming here.”
Unlike the other speakers on Wednesday’s panel, Fonda is not an indigenous person but has been active in environmental causes. She recently joined anti-pipeline protests at Standing Rock and in 2015, spoke at a Greenpeace event in Vancouver.
“Jane Fonda has been a part of supporting moving towards alternative energy in the U.S. and a supporter of indigenous rights like at Standing Rock,” said ACFN spokesperson Eriel Deranger.
Deranger said she does not support an immediate shutdown of the oil industry down, pointing out her own First Nation owns companies active in the oilsands, but advocating discussing how to move towards renewable energy without damaging the economy.
She also rejected the notion that it was insensitive to bring Fonda to Fort McMurray after last spring’s wildfire, arguing that at least 66 ACFN members in Fort McMurray lost their homes.
“We recognize the economic opportunities the oilsands has brought us, but it’s time for us to start talking about making a transition,” said Deranger.
“We’re not afraid to have those conversations.” (VMcDermott@postmedia.com)