On Saturday, June 28, I took part in the 5th and final Healing Walk in Fort McMurray Alberta, along with Council of Canadians organizers Leila Darwish, Aleah Loney and hundreds of people from all directions. The walk calls forth to end the destruction of the land from tar sands expansion and to begin the healing. We came to show our solidarity with the communities who are most impacted.
Photo Credit: Zack Embree
While on our way to the Healing Walk, we heard the amazing news that the Tsilhqot’in had won their rights and title case, starting the walk from a place of strength.
Some of the incredibly inspiring founders of the walk were unable to be there due to health problems. We sent them prayers for healing and felt their spirits with us.
Chief Alan Adam from Fort Chipewyan First Nation opened the event. “Government and industry simply can’t keep doing this without First Nations Consent.”
“The government of Canada is failing to consult with us,” said Crystal Lameman from the Beaver Lake Cree Nation. “We are here and we are not going anywhere.” The Beaver Lake Cree Nation is mounting a legal challenge against the federal government for its failure to consult, and for violating the treaty rights of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation to hunt, fish, and trap in relation to tar sands contamination and spills.
Before walking, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip set out our intention for the walk “We are here to protect and defend mother Earth. This is a global struggle with climate change, he said.
Emissions from the tar sands are greater than conventional crude and are the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. This will get worse with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s plans to triple tar sands production. This is a crime scene for the death and displacement happening globally because of climate change.
We walked along the road of Syncrude tar sands operations. My friend Suzanne Dhaliwal (UK Tar Sands Network) and I went to see the tailings ponds up close. We could hear the sound canons going off. Sound canons were introduced to blast noise so that birds wouldn’t die from the toxicity. It truly sounds and feels like a war on the earth and a war on life.
If it’s the only thing you see you see everyday – it might almost become normal – this artificial landscape, this lifelessness. But when you reflect on the fact that where there was once lush boreal forest, now there is only toxic sludge, it is heartbreaking. And the scale of it, you feel so so tiny. Inconsequential in the face of this life-crushing machine.
We saw a bus of workers pass by. They honked in support. That was meaningful given environmentalists and workers are often pitted against each other. But in fact, a lot of these workers, I’ve learned, hate their jobs. They don’t want to be leaving their families, or working long days in tiny living quarters. But they have few other options. My friend who works there says if one person gets sick, the whole bunkhouse does. These people are not free. Another friend has compared it to jail. When you feel this war on the Earth, it feels like a military base. Specifically, these workers were temporary foreign workers. It was frustrating to see that some workers had these nice luxurious buses, then the temporary foreign workers were cramped into tiny school buses. This is indicative of the systemic and grave discrimination they face.
After Sue and I looked at the lifeless toxic pond, I felt complete hopelessness. But when I looked behind me, I found a reason to keep on going. Behind me I saw friends. I saw people hugging. I saw families giving water to their children.
Last year, when I went to the Healing Walk, I got depressed after seeing the scale of the loss and the grave injustice. But this year, while I felt the grieving and heaviness of the loss, I did not lose myself in it, but felt moved by the people I am with walking with to stop this war on the Earth.
I saw incredible warriors who are overcoming great challenges to protect their communities. The Deranger family, talking about Fort Chip, who has mounted a legal challenge against the government. They have a vision to power Fort Chip with solar. Crystal Lameman of the BLCN mounting the Tar Sands Trial legal challenge. I also thought of the many more people doing this work across the country and globe.
I saw Ta’kaiya Blaney a young activist from the Sliammon Nation working to protect the Earth from the Enbridge pipeline. I saw friends from the union of BC Indian Chiefs. We’ve heard that three BC First Nations are mounting legal challenges against the government with respect to Enbridge, and with the Supreme Court decision, they are even more likely to stop the project, as well as Kinder Morgan. This is incredibly significant as it’s like the tar sands are ground zero for this mass military operation. Pipelines are long rifles carrying bullets of bitumen, and by stopping the pipelines, we are disarming the militia. Indeed, recently Total just pulled out its investment for the fourth largest mine, in part due to investor insecurity related to pipeline projects.
I saw all the wonderful humans willing to come to this hell and pray for the healing. We walked through the barracks together. We’re ready for the next chapter in this war to defend life and the land.