Our Grandfathers Were Chiefs
ost days in Aamjiwnaang go by quietly. Workers tend to their jobs while kids go to school. Teenagers play video games, letting their younger siblings rule the playground. Meals are cooked and shared. Stories are told. Years pass. A grandfather turns fifty as his granddaughter graduates high school. Football championships are lost, baseball games won.
But here, life takes place in the looming shadows of 46 petrochemical plants. Home to 850 Anishinabek people, Aamjiwnaang is in the heart of Canada’s infamous Chemical Valley. Their land is a green lung amidst a toxic landscape; a 3,100 acres territory, which they’re intent on safeguarding for themselves and their ancestors, for the upcoming generations and all the species, fauna and flora alike, that thrive against the odds.
A young woman once explained that when she was a child, she pretended that the smokestacks were cloudmakers. What else do the kids of Aamjiwnaang dream up? Last summer, some shared their fantasies by drawing on large prints of photographs made in the community, populating my observations with the fruits of their imagination.
Laurence Butet-Roch, a member of the Boreal Collective, is a freelance writer, photo editor and photographer based in Toronto, Canada. She contributes to Polka Magazine, The New York Times Lens Blog, TIME Lightbox, The British Journal of Photography, and others. Her work, which examines the intersection between place, memory and identity, interrogates the relation between economic prosperity and well being of communities. She was commended twice by Magenta Flash Forward, in 2016 and 2015, and earned the Montreal Mois de la Photo Emerging Photographer Award in 2010.
Laurence studied International Relations at the University of British Columbia, Photography at the School of Photographic Arts: Ottawa and Digital Media at Ryerson University.