I’d been to the tar sands before.
In 2008, I was part of a small group of B.C. activists who went to Fort McMurray who wanted to see the devastation for ourselves, and return to Vancouver to continue our work to stop the destruction. After 3 dizzying days, a burning throat from contamination and deep sadness in my heart, I didn’t think I’d ever return, but knew I’d work to make sure that everyone saw what I did.
But I did return. Last weekend. To join the 4th annual Healing Walk. Right away, I’ll say to you, and everyone I talk to – join the Walk. Next year. Put it in your calendar. Go.
With the limited time we have to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, I felt it was important to join the Walk, to show my solidarity with the First Nation and Metis people, and the amazing activists fighting further tar sands expansion, and re-commit to the intention of the Walk – to Stop the Destruction and Start the Healing. The fierce fight to stop the KXL pipeline is so important right now – I could think of no other place to stir my rage and call to action.
There is no way that the destruction can be understood without going to Fort McMurray, without walking the streets, breathing the air and seeing the scope of the tar sands processing facilities and the tailings ‘ponds’. There is no way to understand the human impact of the tar sands extraction without hearing from communities under attack. There is no way to truly appreciate the healing the land needs without walking for 7 hours, at the pace set by First Nations elders and drummer, and stopping at four points to experience ceremony and prayer.
About 400 people from across Canada and the United States met on Friday July 5 for an afternoon of workshops at Indian Beach, Fort McMurray First Nation land, on topics ranging from educational session on pipelines (including the proposed Keystone XL), updates on First Nation legal challenges to tar sands extraction (including from Crystal Lameman, Grassroots Award recipient at Global Exchange’s Human Rights Awards, discussing the Beaver Lake Cree challenge) to First Nation culture and ceremony.
On Friday night we were graced with the story telling of Billie Joe Laboucan. Being so far north means it stays light until 10:30pm, so it was close to midnight when I crawled into bed and prepared for the Walk the next morning.
We gathered in the late morning. We were welcomed by elder Violet Clarke, we heard from First Nation leaders and allies (including Naomi Klein’s re-interpretation of ‘over burden’) and we headed off.
Seven hours of slow, meditative, paced walking in a 17km loop (10 1/2 mi!) which passed processing facilities, tailings ponds, worker ‘housing’ and office buildings.
We waved ‘hi’ and peace signs to the passing industry trucks, and many indicated their respect back. We gasped the first time the giant smoke and flaring stacks came into view, we cried as the elders prayed over the first pond of contaminated water we reached. We appreciated the hundreds of sandwiches made and handed out by those that kept us well during the Walk. We shared bug repellant! We met new friends, talked future strategy, heard about struggle and rejoiced that we had all come together on this weekend. And by ‘we’ – I mean ‘I’.
There are amazing report back blogs and stories about the baby that was born as the Healing Walk began, the concern we felt for the people of Lac-Megantic, Quebec as news broke of the explosion of the tanker train carrying oil, and the panic we felt with reports of an oil spill just downstream on the Athabasca River. I encourage you to read them all, watch this video, take action NOW to stop Keystone XL and to join the Healing Walk in 2014.