Need to Know: Eriel Deranger
The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s communications co-ordinator says treaties need to be honoured – and she’s convincing big names she’s right
by Tim Querengesser
Higher ed: Political economy, Athabasca University (degree incomplete)
First job: Youth co-ordinator
First Real Job: Treaty researcher, Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations
Few of us find jobs linked to our identity. Some, on the other hand, have little choice. That’s the case for 35-year-old Eriel Deranger. Since 2011, she has been spokesperson for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. But it’s the way Deranger is doing her job that’s turning heads. She’s shifting the often thankless task of communicating aboriginal positions on land rights into a tool to win converts.
When she was seven, Deranger wrote a report about a book in her Winnipeg school’s library that, she says, perpetuated aboriginal stereotypes; ultimately the book was banned. “You can just continue on from there,” she says of her career. Eventually she enrolled at Athabasca University, but dropped out to continue working hands-on. Her next stop was with the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations as a treaty researcher, but Deranger says she wanted to make bigger change. Her close connection with the ACFN, her home nation, led to a job in 2011, telling the community’s story.
Deranger says her goal is to communicate the ACFN’s story, which is partly about the speed of the oil sands expansion. “What’s happening is happening too fast and irresponsibly,” she says. “Concessions are given to industry while environment and treaty rights are often pushed to the side.”
She has brought big names on-side, too. Last year, Canadian rock icon Neil Young contacted Deranger to see the oil sands and Fort Chipewyan first-hand. “While he was here he felt he wanted to do more,” she says. The result was Young’s four-city, ‘Honour the Treaties’ tour, which took the ACFN’s message to a broader audience.
Deranger says the ultimate goal for the ACFN isn’t legal action but economic and governance partnerships. “If there is development of lands and resources in our traditional territories, we need to be prominent in determining how those things happen, not just as consultants on the side,” she says.