Stop the Destruction. Start the Healing. That’s the main message behind the Tar Sands Healing Walk, a march that took place for the fifth and final year on June 28th in the tar sands area of northern Alberta.
The Healing Walk was led by First Nations whose land is being destroyed and poisoned without their consent by the tar sands gigaproject – the largest industrial project on the planet. Located far north of major urban centres, the tar sands is a prime example of environmental racism, with Indigenous communities downstream being adversely affected by contamination and destruction of their ways of life.
Hundreds of people from across Turtle Island and beyond walked together past toxic tailings ponds and a large Syncrude refinery to call for an end to this mass destruction and for healing of the land and its people. Many wore masks to avoid breathing the toxic fumes pumping out of the refinery.
Two delegates from Peterborough (Nogojiwanong) travelled out to the tar sands to join the Walk and to stand in solidarity with Indigenous peoples dealing with contamination and destruction of their lands and traditional territories. A representative of Sustainable Trent joined students from other universities across Canada who are also campaigning for fossil fuel divestment. Attending the Healing Walk was an important way to connect the divestment movement with the frontlines of fossil fuel extraction. We talk a lot about places like the tar sands, but most of us have never been to the sites of extraction and pollution.
The Healing Walk was not a protest, but a spiritual call for restoration of the land. So much irreversible damage has been done to large swaths of land and water already, yet the tar sands is currently exploiting only 5% of its capacity. Many discussions at the Walk focused on how to put an end to the inefficient, unsustainable tar sands project that is violating Indigenous rights while exacerbating the global climate crisis.
Witnessing the tar sands first hand was disturbing and heartbreaking, but it was inspiring to do so while led by First Nations drummers and Elders and surrounded by hundreds of people committed to building a better future. The “Wrong Way” signs in front of the devastated wastelands encapsulated our collective sentiments: the tar sands is the wrong way for all of us. We do not need the tar sands – we need to shift away from fossil fuels and get to work on restoring the land and its people, for now and for the coming generations.