I recently returned from both the Healing Walk and the Unist’ot’en Action Camp. Regardless of the distance between the Healing Walk in Fort McMurray, Alberta and the Unist’ot’en camp, 66 km outside of Houston, B.C., these events have similar goals of protecting the land, standing up for Indigenous self-determination, and supporting communities immediately threatened by the fossil fuel industry.
I was honoured to help out with both of these events and support people in communities who are showing that they are strong, resilient, and determined to defend their families, friends, and the land.
Other Council of Canadians staff, members, and chapter activists were also at the Healing Walk and helping out with running workshops, preparing food, driving support vehicles during the event, and helping out with social media. In fact, there was so much buzz that the Healing Walk was trending nationally (social media speak for “it was the thing people were talking about most in Canada on twitter”).
But this isn’t significant because it is simply just “good” to have people talking about the Walk. It is significant because after years of fighting the tar sands, communities on the frontlines of tar sands expansion have recognized the need for healing from the pain and destruction caused by these projects.
Tar sands have destroyed the region through clearcuts of boreal forest and the removal of muskeg. The projects pollute the water and rare cancer rates have skyrocketed. After years of fighting these projects locally and building a movement against the tar sands globally, community members have said that they need a time for healing. This year the event was bigger than ever, attracting speakers such as Winona LaDuke, Tantoo Cardinal, Naomi Klein, and Bill McKibben. About 600 people walked from Crane Lake and along Highway 63 around the Suncor refinery. They all took part in the ceremony, and they showed communities impacted by the tar sands that they are not alone.
On the same day as the Walk, there was a devastating accident in which a train carrying crude oil derailed in Lac-Megantic in Quebec killing over 50 people and flattening the city centre. There was also an oily sheen seen on the Athabasca River that was over 60 km long. Both of these accidents are results of unfettered fossil fuel expansion. Those facing the pain as a result of these events were also in our thoughts and our hearts during the walk.
Other participants in the Healing Walk were Wet’suwet’en peoples who have set up log cabins, permaculture gardens, and pit houses along the routes of proposed oil and gas pipelines. By seeing the destruction to the land, water, air, and communities which result from projects such as the Suncor refinery, people such as the Wet’suwet’en are once again reminded of the importance of stopping tar sands expansion.
Freda Huson, a spokesperson of the Unist’ot’en people (a clan of the Wet’suwet’en), has said numerous times that she does not want to be telling future generations about the moose they used to hunt, the fish they used to catch, and the water they used to drink from the Morice River. She wants future generations to be able to hunt the moose, catch the fish, and drink the water themselves.
Companies such as Enbridge, Apache, Chevron, and Spectra Energy are all trying to put tar sands and fracking pipelines through Wet’suwet’en territory. Industry is eyeing the region as an “energy corridor.” But communities are saying no. People in B.C. have been vocally opposing the Enbridge pipeline, the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, and increasingly been raising the alarm bells about the Pacific Trails fracking pipeline. It is clear that people do not want these pipelines.
But we cannot forget that it is also important to stop these pipelines at their source. It is also crucial to recognize the sovereignty and self-determination of Indigenous peoples who live near the tar sands and in regions that are being heavily fracked.
To compliment the work being done to oppose the Pacific Trails Pipeline, the Council of Canadians will be launching a campaign to stop fracking in British Columbia. To follow this work, check out our facebook page: www.facebook.com/DontFrackBC and follow us on twitter