Last Saturday morning, I woke up early to join the Bay Area refinery corridor Healing Walk. I joined with over a hundred local Bay Area residents to walk twelve miles through one of the largest oil refining corridors on the West Coast.
For the past few years, First Nations groups in Canada have organized a series of Healing Walks to raise awareness about the Alberta tar sands and its impacts on local, mostly Indigenous, communities in the area. While the Healing Walks have been going on for years, they have only begun recently to spread into the U.S.
Here in San Francisco Bay Area, organizers with the local Idle No More chapter began a series of Healing Walks (four this year) through the area’s refinery corridor. Currently, there are five oil refineries along the Northeast Bay: Martinez (operated by Shell & Tesoro), Benicia (operated by Valero), Rodeo (operated by Phillips 66) and Richmond (operated by the ever-nefarious Chevron.) With the increase in Bakken oil and tar sands shipments by rail this year, the Bay Area refinery output is increasing and spewing more pollution and more carbon into the air.
Idle No More is a women-led Indigenous direct action group that organizes around community health and climate issues. Locally, they’ve joined with communities in the refinery corridor to counter the increasing capacity of the refinery corridors. They’ve organized these Healing Walks to bring attention to the refinery corridor, to bring people together in these refinery communities, and to walk in prayer and conversation on Mother Earth.
The morning began with a water prayer next to the Bay. It was led by Casey Camp-Horinek, a Ponca grandmother from Oklahoma with deep roots in Indigenous resistance. Her father and brothers had been warriors who stood against the U.S. government with the American Indian Movement (AIM) at Wounded Knee in 1973. She reminded us that in our current ecological predicament, our society is catastrophically out of balance with the earth and that events like the Healing Walks are a first step to reclaim that balance.
It was a beautiful day. It was sunny and hot. We walked. We prayed. People often think of the San Francisco Bay Area a liberal ecotopia free of oil pollution, but the Healing Walk, for me, connected the dots between the harsh nature of the local oil industry and place where I live.