When I Was Young

© Maria Dunn, 2014

Dorothy McDonald-Hyde was the first elected female chief in Alberta, serving her community, Fort McKay First Nation, between 1980 and 1992. A champion of environmental protection and Indigenous rights, she stood up to industry giants that were profiting from her homelands. Both Dorothy and her daughter Dayle Hyde eloquently described their connection to the Athabasca River at Fort McKay, less than 60 kms downstream from oil sands operations in the Fort McMurray area. Written for multimedia show On The River, a collaboration with Asani and Don Bouzek of Ground Zero Productions, with gratitude to Dorothy’s family for sharing her story.


Every morning, I walk down here
Calm and peaceful, I am home
From the cliffs or by the low banks
I feel her spirit flow
When I was young I learned to swim here
You could play all afternoon
Now the water leaves you blistered
And the river runs in ruin

She once carried so much good here
As she passed her joyful way
Now she bears a heavy burden
Foam and oil mar her face
When I was young I learned to fish here
Grateful for the food she gave
Now my tears join with rainfall
In my prayer she be saved

I share my memories with my daughter
It seems a fairy tale
How we once could drink the water
So cold, clear and pale
Those precious times down by the river
I would love for her to know
It’s with bitterness and sorrow
I warn her not to go

Some might leave this sad story
Or depart this sullied place
But I was born and I will stay here
To fight this whole disgrace
I challenge those who treat this river
As nothing more than dumping ground
Spend a day here in her presence
Know your crime profound
Spend a day here in her presence
Feel her life profound


Maria Dunn vocal, acoustic guitars
Debbie Houle (Asani) harmony vocal
Sarah Pocklington (Asani) harmony vocal
Solon McDade upright bass