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Tar sands: Stopping the destruction and starting the healing

Over the past few months, I have been lucky enough to work with a few fabulous young women to organize a caravan of cars to head to the 4th Annual Healing Walk taking place in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Over 40 people from Vancouver alone will be travelling to Alberta in the next few days to take part in this ceremonial event.

 As a group of women who have been organizing in our communities on issues such as Indigenous sovereignty and environmental protection, we felt it crucial to accept this open invitation to go to the tar sands to join those who are saying: “Stop the destruction and start the healing.”

This is one of the main messages of the Healing Walk.

First things first: We need to stop the destruction

Many of us have seen those shocking photos and aerial views of tar sands mining operations. We have seen images of the tailings ponds, ducks covered in oil, and pipes spewing out toxic sludge. What we do not always remember is that, if these photos were taken decades ago in the same place, we would be seeing photos of one of the most biodiverse regions of the world—the Boreal Forest.

We would be seeing lands where people could hunt and fish without being worried about the health of the animals they are eating. We would be seeing rivers and streams from which people could drink. We would see communities that could live and thrive off the land.

People have devoted their lives to fighting these projects. There are rallies, protests, and demonstrations all the time that target financial, political, and corporate supporters of these projects. There are articles, blogs, petitions, and research reports that remind us why these projects need to be stopped.

But rarely do we stop and ask if fighting is the only thing that needs to happen. When we do stop for a moment, we recognize the need for healing.

Start the healing

Organizers of the event have said that the “Healing Walk is an opportunity for people from all walks of life to join First Nations and Métis in a spiritual gathering that will focus on healing the land and the people who are suffering from tar sands expansion.”

This is an opportunity for building our relationships with each other and with those directly impacted by the tar sands. For those who have never seen the tar sands, it is an opportunity to see what it is we are fighting against first hand and an opportunity to walk a mile or two in someone else’s shoes and to get a better understanding of the need to stop tar sands expansion.

While no walk, however long, can make us all understand the impacts of years of corporate expansion and colonial practices (including land grabs, exploited labour, coercive contracts with corporations, and treaty right violations); the Healing Walk does have the power to help us build solidarity and think of creative ways to work towards a different future together.

Why we are coming from B.C.

Building solidarity and building a shared understanding of the movement against extreme energy projects is one reason we are trying to get folks from the Lower Mainland of B.C. to the Healing Walk. In the past few years, many people have been talking about the impacts pipelines and tankers would have on their communities. Oil spills could be devastating, and tar sands oil in particular is difficult to clean up. Diluted bitumen (a mixture of extracted tar sands crude and chemical condensate) impacts our water supplies and community health.

For some people, however, chemical toxins in their water and destruction of their land are not possibilities in the foreseeable future—they are lived realities.

Any new pipeline would facilitate tar sands expansion. This means more cancer causing toxins in the Athabasca River watershed and more carbon emissions coming from the Boreal Forest (which would naturally sequester carbon pollution). The reason fights against pipeline proposals such as the Keystone XL pipeline, Enbridge’s Line 9, TransCanada’s Energy East, and the B.C. pipelines—Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline and the Enbridge Northern Gateway—even exist is because government and industry want to expand the tar sands. They want to profit off of this dirty oil, and they don’t want anyone to get in their way.

Opposition to these projects, however, is growing.

International attention

The Healing Walk is gaining international attention and is getting messages of solidarity from all over the world.

This past week, Global Power Shift brought together 600 youth from all over the world and they sent this message out on Facebook.

Rigoberta Manchu, an Indigenous rights warrior from Guatemala and a Nobel Peace Laureate said, “Our health as a civilization and the health of our Earth are intertwined. As Indigenous people we stand in solidarity with the Healing Walk.”

Healing Walk quote

People from all over will be attending the event, and there will be amazing speakers including Wab Kinew, Tantoo Cardinal, Bill McKibbon, and Naomi Klein. Young environmental justice activists will be attending, including youth from Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Southern Ontario who have been raising concerns about refineries and pipelines in their community.

Ultimately, taking action against destruction is all of our responsibility. If you would like to do something but are unable to make it, please check out the Healing Walk website, which has information about what you can do from home.

If you are in Vancouver but unable to attend the walk, some people have gotten together to organize an event in Vancouver to express solidarity with the Healing Walk.