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Tar sands, cancer and becoming an Elder: stories from Fort Chipewyan

Emma Pullman is writing stories from impacted communities on the front lines of the tar sands in the lead up to the 4th Annual Healing Walk, a spiritual gathering and 14km walk to pray for the healing of the land and people at the front lines of tar sands expansion. The Healing Walk is July 5-6, 2013 in Fort McMurray, Alberta. You can follow her work here and on

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"So are they gonna leave it? Are they going to leave your garbage for us? Everything that has came up on Highway 63, all those oil plants -- they're just gonna leave them there, with a big hole in the ground, contaminated holding ponds, and we're gonna be left with that, because they're sure as hell not going to take it with them. And they'll have made their billions, and billions and trillions of dollars."

"What's it going to be like when he's 61?"

Rigney takes her one-month old great-grandson into her arms. As she kisses his cheek and speaks a few words in Dene to him. She says,

"It's him I worry about. I'm 61. What's it going to be like when he's 61? It's not going to be like this. I really worry about my memory, my way of life. It's disappearing. The stories are disappearing. The way people think is disappearing."

"The teachings from our grandparents and parents is that this is not ours. You don't own the land. It's for your kids, your grandchildren. And that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to keep it so that it's clean enough so that my grandchildren, and that little guy," she says as she takes his hand, "go out there like I am. But I kind of doubt that. I don't have faith in anything that industry says. I don't have any faith in them at all."


Photo by Emma Pullman

"When you know that the Premier and the federal government are after one thing and that's the resource, the oil has to come out at any cost. And if we're in the way, they'll just move us out of the way. Do away with us."

"This is our land. This is our home." she tells me. "Now I'm becoming an elder, and I have to pass on what I know. That's not mine to keep. It's mine to share with everyone."

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