This Article is part of the Tar Sands Reporting Project special report See the full report

Grief on the edge of the tar sands

One person's emotion speaks for millions.

Dene elder Francois Paulette. Photo copyright by Bill Weaver for The Vancouver Observer

Her sobs carried across the crowd. Propane cannons boomed to frighten wildlife away from the tailings pond. She was surrounded by First Nation chiefs and elders, people from Squamish, Fort McMurray, and Fort Chipewyan. They comforted her as she cried over what they described as the devastation of their land, culture, and "Mother Earth."

Her heart-wrenching weeping silenced the 400 or so people who had come from all parts of Canada to join the First Nations for the 2013 Healing Walk. They stood listening as a seemingly-endless convoy of trucks rolled slowly towards the Syncrude oil sands facility.

Her tears said more than all of the passionate and powerful speeches that had taken place over the last 24 hours combined:  Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, Wynona LaDuke, dwarfed by the white haired woman's raw grief.

No one explained. No one had to. It had already been said.

The marchers looked over to where she sat on the edge of the man-made body of water where oil sands waste ends up, a toxic pond deadly to ducks and birds who hazard into it.

As her sobs pierced the cloudy day, some demonstrators began to weep.

The woman stood. One chief wrapped his arms around her. Then another. Then another and another. An elder wiped tears from his deeply wrinkled face. They turned away from the tailings pond.

And the walk continued. 

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I agree with Michael Moore when he said

that a capitalist would sell you the rope with which you are going to hang him if he can make a profit on it. The destruction of the aboreal forests and pollution of the air and water by these industrial giants continues and will continue. I weep with the wailing woman. Who will defend our planet against the corporate predators? When does making profit become immoral? Tuum est folks! It is for each of us a responsibility we owe to all children on this lonely Earth.

give me a break

Stop driving gas powered vehicles and stop buying anything made of plasyic or packaged in plastic.  Hypocrites!!!!

Looks like Dene elder Francois Paulette

Looks like Dene elder Francois Paulette at the Healing Walk..

this is all you felt led to say after reading this?

Karla Peterson wrote:

Stop driving gas powered vehicles and stop buying anything made of plasyic or packaged in plastic.  Hypocrites!!!!

give me a break

Karla Peterson wrote:

Stop driving gas powered vehicles and stop buying anything made of plasyic or packaged in plastic.  Hypocrites!!!!

Give me a break

Hey Give me a break with your sterotypical ,well reherased come back, what is your solution and do you follow up on it.

Oilsands are Magnificent

.... and then they all got in their cars and drove home. #hypocrites

Oh My?!

Wow, journalism at its best as usual!? I have worked with many a First Nations person in the FMM region and none of them were crying - only more than happy to have stable sources of high grade income. Typical article - all emotion and no substance i.e., what is the proposed new science, engineering and economics for our new energy future. Biggest problem with most nay sayers is they simply do not understand basic physics, chemistry, economics etc and they somehow believe that the biggest polluters is heavy industry - the consumer is the biggest polluter by far. Hypocrits!

Joseph Fournier

Must be so awesome getting paid by Suncor to post these kinds of comments, Joseph.

Tar Sands

Have some creativity, Karla. How about helping us to create an eco economy / eco capitalism. Instead of that cereal box, tin cans, plastic that going into a landfill how about if we collectively use our brains and exquisite technology to recycle every wood, plastic, steel, post consumer and post commerical product into a new economy. Instead of cutting down the tree or mining iron ore, these pre-processed products are already in our trash cans. Oracle has an entire Supply chain suite, BtoB, manufacturing and distribution applications, barely tapped. Instead of waiting for our governments to do it for us or for the Japanese to develop new technologies we need to get off of our fat rears and develop cottage industries. Collection points, transport to manufacturing plants and making new out of one time used trash. There's no reason why old drywall can't be made into new drywall, steel into new steel,change how wood is cut, new ways of building our homes and structures. The fact is that we either change or in the next 100 years winters willl be at the temperatures of today's summers. Like the motto of many businesses, adapt or take the way of the dinosaurs.

Karla Peterson wrote:

Stop driving gas powered vehicles and stop buying anything made of plasyic or packaged in plastic.  Hypocrites!!!!

How much more can Mother Earth take

Before these fools realize...she's broke beyond compare?  How much money do the share holders in the Oil Cartels need to be happy?  How many of our brothers...the bear...the wolf...the eagle...all wild life, have to die, before it's enough?  How many women, and the babies, have to suffer from the cancers that will follow?  When is it going to be enough.  I'm not Native American, but there are others like me that feel the same pain...because we live here to.

think and do research before you speak out!

Karla Peterson wrote:

Stop driving gas powered vehicles and stop buying anything made of plasyic or packaged in plastic.  Hypocrites!!!!

This is such a short sighted and lazy way of looking at this huge issue. Please educate yourself on the many forms of free and cleen energy available instead of standing against your brothers and sisters and your future generations make a stand for the good fight and make an impact whilst you can for the betterment of mankind. Oil and gas will become a thing of the past as soon as we all unite to stand for cleen alternatives, but these cleen alternatives dont make much profit. Check out justin hall tipping freeing energy from the grid. The only reason that such alternatives are not in mass production is due to fear. Fear of loss of control of being at the top of the energy market , fear that others will also use the product to see in the dark an apparent threat apparently! This is just one example of 100s. How does the universe manage so well? why are we the only beings onb this planet that pay for our existance. How dumb and outdated is that? PLease I urge you to think and do your own research for a very long time!

Grief on the Edge of Tarsands

I have never seen anthing quite so moving. 

The photograbh of that desperate man, and the reasons for his desperation should be sent world-wide.

The text accompanying the photo also moved me to tears.


Ruth Nicol


Feeling empathy, thinking deeply and speaking with respect

As a retired English teacher who tried to break the 'correct everything to death' mode and move into dialogic teaching where every learner mattered, I am starting to add my experience to these comments to say something about civility and how it connects to creativity and problem solving.

The planet is real.....natural systems are real, complex and interconnected.  We all know this, whatever we argue for the sake of a good fight.

Human beings are part of this planet......we belong to the earth, the earth does not belong to us.  I think a native poet said that, and its an obvious truth.  Therefore, it seems to me we need to think and speak with respect for these background realities.

That is not what I generally see in these comments.  A polarizing topic is it not?  What we are doing to extract the last bits of fossil fuel from our mother?  And for those who profit from this extractivism, or think they are dependent on it, it is a fighting issue.  Their needs and fears of loss get in the way of respectful discussion.  But so too often do the comments of the people who are afraid that what we are doing to the earth is soon to rebound on us....the people who know how to take without giving back.

I think its clear which side I'm on.  I'm well educated, and I've read the scientific studies done by independent scientists.  James Hansen comes to mind.  The conservative government would not have muzzled scientists if the majority of their findings supported a continued ramp up of bitumen extraction.  This is just common sense.

What I would suggest we all try to do is speak with reason and civility.  One line come backs like "did you drive here in a car" are 1. put downs (you know very well the answer), 2. substitutes for thought (you know very well that Big Oil doesn't want investment in alternative sources of transportation, and actively blocks those alternatives) 3. as stupid a comeback as it would be to say to people upset about the slave labour conditions in Bangledeshi garment factries, "do you wear clothes?) The debate about the current goldrush stampede to extract and export as much of our raw bitumen as possible, and damn the living conditions of the people downstream, is an essential debate.  Let's try and engage as people who deserve a future.... In the end, if we get it wrong, we are all going to be losers.  This isn't a school exercise, or a competition for a limited number of university positions.  WE all need to do the research, think and listen attentively before we start insulting each other.
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I'm sitting here after reading this article in tears, one told us fifty years ago when the tar sands began that toxic tailings ponds where seeping into the ground, no one from the governments of Canada cared.  I am forty seven this year, I consider myself lucky to be alive considering that half of my relatives are dead now...causes? cancers, organ failure.  When my relatives went to the doctors they where told, "Your okay, go home" or "there is nothing that can be done to help you recover from your fatal disease."  I am very thankful too all the people out there who are educating those who want this death slayer to be stopped, without them telling the world that there are people living from Fort McMurray, AB to Tuktoyuktuk, NT.  Thanks too all who care