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Final Healing Walk draws more than 200

"The inspiring part was nations coming together coast to coast united to protect the environment," said a participant at the final Healing Walk in Fort McMurray.  But there were mixed emotions amongst the 200 or so people who participated in the event.

First photo of Healing Walk from Healing Walk Flickr page. Second photo: Sara Loutitt, Director with the Fort McMurray Metis, walks with Ronnie Campbell, newly elected councillor for Mikisew Cree FN. Thanks to Healing Walk Flickr page for many of the photos below. Used with permission.

"Stop the destruction, start the healing," was the rallying cry for around two hundred First Nations and their supporters from across North America at yesterday's final Healing Walk in Fort McMurray. 

Photo from Healing Walk Flickr page

Organizers said the Healing Walk "has achieved its ultimate purpose of building unity and alliances among First Nations impacted by tar sands development in Canada and the United States."

Fort McMurray, a traditional hunting, fishing, and gathering ground, is also the centre of tar sands development.  The walk offered healing prayers to the land and to build strength and unity among people impacted by tar sands development.

"The inspiring part was nations coming together coast to coast united to protect the environment," said a Healing Walk participant.  But there were mixed emotions amongst the 200 or so people who participated in the event, she added.

Photo below by Crystal Greene @CrystalDawnGee

"This extractive industry is destroying our chance at a future... we're here to say right now that with strong alliances across the nation we can put a stop to this type of activity and get back to doing what's right for our people," Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, Assembly of Manitoba Grand Chiefs, told those gathered.

"People will look back to see what we did now and whether or not we did the right thing. So I ask you all let's continue to do the right thing."

Fort McKay and Fort Chipewan elders from Healing Walk Flickr page

“First Nations communities were once scared to share their stories about tar sands impacts, but the Healing Walk has been a safe place to share knowledge so that today First Nations are stronger than ever to fight tar sands development across North America,” said Eriel Deranger, of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.

Indigenous people came from Houston, Alabama, and across Canada. First Nation leaders included the Grand Chief Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Derek Nepinak, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Chief Allan Adam, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations, Chief Steve Courterielle, Mikisew Cree First Nation. Hundreds from nearby communities and across North America also joined the walk, including First Nations rapper Frank Waln, thirteen-year-old First Nation singer Ta'kaiya Blainey (pictured below) and local doctor, John O’Connor.

Chief Stewart Phillip in photo from Healing Walk Flickr page

Dr. John O'Connor in his office in Fort McKay, photo by Andrew S. Wright

On Friday there were a series or workshops about tar sands impacts. The recent Tsilhqot'in court case was top of mind and there were many conversations about the implications for future tar sands development.

Video featuring thirteen-year-old First Nation singer Ta'kai Blaney performing at Vancouver protest by Mychaylo Prystupa

 “This is the last healing walk in the Athabasca region because it’s time to shed light on other communities impacted by tar sands,” said Jesse Cardinal, coordinator of Keepers of the Athabasca. “In order to stop the destruction, the healing has to start everywhere.” 

Video below by Bill Weaver for the Vancouver Observer and the Tar Sands Reporting Project from 2013 Healing Walk.  With interviews by Linda Solomon Wood featuring Chief Stewart Phillip, Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, Eriel Deranger, Tzeporah Berman, and more...

The Healing Walk was organized by Keepers of the Athabasca, a network of First Nation, Metis and settler communities along the Athabasca River. There was a pipe ceremony before the walk, followed by a feast.

The Alberta tar sands produced approximately 1.9 million barrels of oil per day in 2012, but if industry and government’s expansion plans are approved that number could reach 5 million barrels per day by the end of 2030.

This year, First Nations have witnessed the oil spill in Cold Lake, which still continues without a way to stop it. Just this week, eight experts in environmental science, policy and risk from Simon Fraser University called for a moratorium on all new tar sands development until there is a comprehensive policy-making process for energy development for North America.


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