2024 Canadian Hillman Prize winner: “Killer Water,” a story of greed, corruption, and willful government neglect. Congratulations Brandi Morin, Geordie Day, Ricochet Media/The Real News Network/IndigiNews Media and team, and Fort Chip community!

Brandi Morin@Songstress28 March 19, 2024:

Stunned to learn @geordieday and I won the prestigious @SidneyHillman 2024 Canadian Hillman Award Broadcast category for our film Killer Water produced in conjunction with @ricochet_en

These stories are making waves & I am soooooo blessed to do this work!!! Hiy Hiy to the people of Fort Chipewyan who are battling the impacts of the oil sands for sharing your intimate experiences with us; to our team & to the Hillman Foundation for this honouring.

2024 Canadian Hillman Prize Winner

Broadcast category

Killer Water: The Toxic Legacy of Canada’s Oil Sands Industry on Indigenous Communities

Brandi Morin and Geordie Day

Ricochet Media/The Real News Network/IndigiNews Media

Brandi Morin and Geordie Day

Brandi Morin: Co-Director, Producer, Writer
Geordie Day: Co-Director, Producer, Cinematographer, Editor
With editors and producers: Andrea Houston and Ethan Cox, Ricochet Media; Cara McKenna and Eden Fineday, IndigiNews; Maximilian Alvarez, Kayla Rivara and Rosette Sewali, Real News Network

Most Canadians who reap the benefits of the oil sands industry in Alberta turn a blind eye to the damage it causes.

“Killer Water” is a story of greed, corruption, and willful government neglect. Journalist Brandi Morin and cinematographer Geordie Day expose the realities of industry that is creating environmental refugees in Canada. Their investigation compels politicians and industry leaders to confront the toxic impact of the oil sands industry.

Morin and Day invested months of investigative reporting and filmed in a remote First Nation community accessible only by boat or plane. Journalists and editors from Ricochet Media teamed up with The Real News Network based in the U.S., and IndigiNews Media in Canada (an Indigenous women-led outlet), pooling limited resources and working together in an international cross-border collaboration.

Still of man with dog at the edge of the Athabasca River

The Athabasca is Alberta’s longest river and is designated as a Canadian Heritage River. The Athabasca boreal forest sits on the largest known reservoir of crude bitumen on the planet, which is exploited by the oil sands industry. It employs 138,000 people and produces about 3.3 million barrels of oil a day, an important driver of the economy for both Alberta and the country.

In “Killer Water,” Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam explains that his community is facing the detrimental impact of toxic tailings and leaks on the delicate ecosystems, water sources, and human life in and around Fort Chipewyan.

Last February, Indigenous communities downstream from Imperial Oil’s Kearl Mine learned of a massive spill from its tailings area. The water released in that spill exceeded federal and provincial guidelines for arsenic, sulphates, and hydrocarbons. Even though it was one of the largest releases of tailings in Alberta’s history, the provincial government failed to inform the community until there was a second incident. That’s when the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) issued an Environmental Protection Order, triggering an “emergency” response, and calling on the company to contain and remediate the spill.

Another long-term spill had happened at the same mine, about nine months earlier. Mine employees discovered the leak, and notified Imperial Oil, which in turn alerted the AER. However, no one informed the affected Indigenous communities, the public, or provincial, territorial, and federal governments.

The delay in issuing an alert has spurred the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation to sue the Alberta Energy Regulator. Filed on March 5th, 2024, the lawsuit seeks not only financial damages of $500 million for “negligence, breach of duty to consult and treaty infringement,” but systemic reform.

On January 10, 2024, Brandi Morin was reporting on a police raid of an Indigenous encampment in Edmonton, Alberta. Officers arrested her and charged her with obstruction. Several weeks later, the charges were dropped.

“Killer Water” has been critical to the effort to mitigate the detrimental effects of oil sands pollution. First Nations communities have shared it widely and have used it to compel politicians and industry leaders to take their concerns seriously.

Brandi Morin is an award-winning Cree/Iroquois/French journalist from Treaty 6 territory in Alberta. For the last 10 years Brandi has specialized in sharing Indigenous stories, some of which helped spark change and reconciliation in Canada’s political, cultural, and social landscapes. Brandi is known for her clear-eyed and empathetic reporting on Indigenous oppression in North America. She is herself a survivor of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls crisis and uses her experience to tell the stories of those who did not survive the rampant violence.

Brandi won a Human Rights Reporting award from the Canadian Association of Journalists in April 2019 for her work with the CBC’s Beyond 94 project, tracking the progress of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. In July 2022, Brandi won Best Feature Story at the Native American Journalists Association for “‘Canada’s crying shame’: The fields full of children’s bones” with Al Jazeera English, as well as Best Column for her OpEds with the Toronto Star. Brandi’s series about the genocide of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls with Al Jazeera English won a top prize in the Feature Reporting category of the 2022 Edward R. Murrow awards. In September 2023, Pen Canada awarded Brandi with its annual Ken Filkow Prize for advancing freedom of expression in Canada, and Amnesty International Canada named Brandi the 2022/23 Media Award winner in the Local News/Alternative category for her story “The last of the untamed: Wedzin Kwa and the Wet’suwet’en fight to save her” which chronicled the Wet’su’wet’en People’s battle to stop a pipeline being constructed through their unceded lands. Her debut memoir Our Voice of Fire: A Memoir of a Warrior Rising became a national bestseller. Brandi has been described as a “force” and a human rights champion who relentlessly persists in reporting with courage and transparency.

Geordie Day is a documentary filmmaker and television producer/director. His films have been showcased on television, on-demand services, and in theaters around the world. Geordie has produced, written, and directed factual programming for Amazon Prime, Cooking Channel, Animal Planet, Nat Geo, CBC, CTV, E!, MTV, CMT, REELZ, MGM+, and Crave. His directing credits include 21 episodes of true crime shows The Shocking Truth and 33 episodes of Sex, Lies, and Murder. 

In 2017, Geordie produced Charles Manson: Final Words, containing the last recorded interviews with Manson. Narrated by musician Rob Zombie, the film aired on REELZ and was featured on TMZ, Megan Kelly Live, Rolling Stone Magazine, Billboard Magazine, and The New York Times. In 2019, Geordie wrote, directed, and produced Tough Guy: The Bob Probert Story, an intimate portrait of the legendary NHL enforcer. The film was released in theaters across the US and is currently streaming on Amazon Prime. In 2022, Geordie served as DOP and Story Producer on Ayoungman. The film was featured at the San Francisco International Film Festival, Calgary International Film Festival, Dreamspeakers, and won Best Documentary at the AmDoc Film Fest in Palm Springs.

In 2023, Geordie co-directed Killer Water and Thacker Pass: Mining the Sacred, in partnership with The Real News, Ricochet Media, and IndigiNews.

Refer also to:

Killer Water: The toxic legacy of Canada’s oil sands industry for Indigenous communities. Complete documentary

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