Highlighting human and environmental cost of Canada's energy policy with Healing Walk through oil sands
First Nations leaders, civilians and international media gathered on a rainy day near Fort McMurray on Friday for the annual 4th Annual Healing Walk, a spiritual gathering and 14-kilometre walk to pray for the healing of land and people at the front lines of Alberta's oil sands expansion. The topic was trending nationally on twitter yesterday and was covered by the U.K.-based Guardian as well as Al-Jazeera and The Wall Street Journal.
And on Saturday, the group circled the Syncrude oil sands facility, stopping for First Nations elders to conduct ceremonies they said they hoped would lead to the healing of the land that was once covered with boreal forest and is now the site of bitumen extraction.
One lane of the two lane highway was closed for the group. Truck drivers occasionally honked and waved in support despite the long wait the disruption of the demonstration caused to traffic approaching the Syncrude facility. A police escort of some 10 cars maked "Peace Officer" accompanied the march and were stationed all along the route.
Lionel Lepine of the Fort McMurray First Nation spoke on Friday about the impacts of living near the oil fields in Alberta on his community.
"In Fort Chip we live at ground zero. Our people are dying. Cancer rates are skyrocketing," he said.
"They call Fort McMurray 'boomtown'. I call it doom town."
Climate activist and 350.org founder Bill McKibben Bill McKibben said that if development in Canada's oil sands continue, it's "game over for the planet". Despite the economic advantages that developing oil could have on Canada, McKibben suggested that it's time to develop green energy jobs.
"This is a fight between a few very wealthy men and the future," McKibben said in his keynote address.
"Oil doesn't just corrode pipelines, oil is corroding our democracy," environmental activist Tzeporah Berman said, noting the federal governent's backing of oil industry interests.
She spoke of the First Nations communities living downstream on the Athabasca River from "the world's largest industrial project" where cancer rates have increased.
"A tragedy that has a solution which isn't being acted upon isn't a tragedy," Berman said. "It's a scandal."
Photos by Margery Moore, executive producer of environmental film "Wakan Tanka".