Taking Steps to Heal the Tar Sands

By Rainforest Action Network

This past weekend was a big step for the city of Fort McMurray, Alberta.  On Saturday August 14th, 2010 I joined local Indigenous community members along with supporters from across the country in the Tar Sands Healing Walk. We walked through the tar sands development zones calling for the healing of land and water.  This event was called by the Keepers of the Athabasca, who worked in partnership with many local ENGO’s.  This event was the first of it’s kind and never before has there been a community led event in Fort McMurray that opposes tar sands development. It was powerful and is just the beginning.

The walk was long and powerful.  The day started with a ceremony at dawn in Lions Park in the heart of McMurray.  From there we shuttled the walkers to a point on Highway 63 near Suncor’s Crane Lake rehabilitation area where over 150 of us gathered to start the walk with prayer and stories.  As we circled together a large black bear appeared and stood on a ridge just above us and soon after a large bald eagle circled overhead.  Both were signs of the power and importance of the day.   From there we began our 13 kilometre trek through the heartland of destruction in the tar sands right past Syncrude and Suncor tailings ponds and past the Syncrude complex itself, the walk ended back at the Crane Lake parking lot.

The 13-kilometer trek was filled with much needed prayer and song as we walked through blowing sands from the dried tailing sites and the air was thick with pollution coming out of the large smoke stacks. We stopped in the four directions along the walk and laid down offering of thanks and prayer and allowed us time to catch our breath and share important stories of the land.  The walkers crossed through generations with elders who had watched the land change over the last 80 years and children still clad in diapers and in their mothers arms.  Tantoo Cardinal, a well known actress (Dances with Wolves, Legends of the Fall), who grew up in Anzac, AB just south of Fort McMurray joined us for the day and offered her prayers and words to the day.

The event was well organized with packed lunches, St. John’s Ambulance on site and a strong police presence along the road to help slow traffic along the route.  We carried two large banners that read “STOP the Destruction – START the HEALING” and one small banner with an old Cree proverb “Only when the last tree has been cut. Only when the last river has been polluted. Only when the last fish has been caught. Only then will they realize that we cannot eat money.” Many people that drove past honked their horns in support.

Media came out and at some point many of us made jokes about how there were more cameras then people.  It truly was a testament to how momentous this event really was.  One of my favorite pieces that came out was the front page of Fort McMurray Today and features a large photo of my cousin Siouan Star Deranger.  My favorite quote from this piece comes from a collegue and comrade George Poitras “We have lived here for thousands of years. We rely on the land — our lives are intrinsically linked to the land. We are one and the same. It is very frustrating to see the unprecedented pace of development with little to no consideration of the land, as we call it, our mother earth — it gives us life,” All in All the event was a huge success and a series of fantastic photos can be seen here on flickr.

I followed up this great event with a trip to Fort Chipewyan where I had a chance to meet with the Elders, the IRC and Chief.  I also found some time to visit with family and take in a community that is so beautiful and reminder of what I am fighting for.