Beyond Protest: First Nations Community Seeks Alternatives to Tar Sands Destruction
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A couple years ago I was asked by the Keepers of the Athabasca t o be the Master of Ceremonies for a very different kind of event. It took place in the region of the most controversial energy project on earth, the Canadian tar sands. The idea was not to have a protest, but instead to engage in a meaningful ceremonial action to pray for the healing of Mother Earth, which has been so damaged by the tar sands industry. Community members of the five First Nations of the Athabasca region and the town of Fort McMurray, tired of the consistent negativity and never ending fight with big oil and government, had made a conscientious choice to find another source of power in the struggle to protect their way of life. This was done by turning to ceremony and asking through prayer and the physical act of walking on the earth so that the hearts of those harming her (Mother Earth) through extreme energy extraction could be healed.
My journey started in to Fort McMurray, Alberta, also known as tar sands boom town. Many have described this place as the land of milk and honey, a place were you can trade five years of your life (and soul) and be financially “set up.” I met with a motley crew of activists, sovereigntists, elders and youth from Fort Chipewyan, Fort McKay, Anzac and the metro-areas of Calgary and Edmonton, as well as some allies who had traveled from as far as British Columbia, and beyond.
The plan was to take vehicles to the beginning of the infamous Highway 63 ring through the tar sands. This 60km stretch of road has gained a notorious reputation of being the highway of death, due to the tremendous amount of people who have died in horrific auto accidents inrecent years. It is always busy with peak traffic rivalling that of downtown New York, the traffic gets especially heavy during two daily shift changes. Then, our plan was to pray, make offerings to the four directions and walk through the heart of tar sands development as concerned Elders, parents, youth and grandchildren.
Healing Walk PSA: First Nations communities are being poisoned by the out of control growth of the tar sands. Please stand with these communities - ask Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver & Premier Alison Redford to accept the invitation to the tar sands Healing Walk. This video is made of scenes from the film "Occupy Love" directed by Velcrow Ripper. Music in these scenes by Christen Lien and Zoe Keating. Learn more at http://www.occupylove.org
Highway 63 is the only road to Fort McKay Cree Nation, one of Canada's most polluted, yet richest First Nations, where water needs to be trucked in daily to meet the communities needs. The 63 loops past vast human made deserts in the form of tailings ponds wet and dry, and then past an archaic Suncor/Petro-Canada facility with black carbon stained cracking towers, belching hellfire into the morning sky. The highway finally meets the junction to get to Fort McKay and continues onward past the industrial metropolis that is Syncrude, Canada's largest tar sands operator, operated laregly by Exxon Oil .The Syncrude site is like something straight out of a science fiction movie.
From the road, you can see glimmering stainless steel cracking towers, which separate bitumen into synthetic oil, a massive tank farm, lego-like worker sleeping facilities stacked upon one another, and half-built pyramids of sulfur (a waste by-product of the bitumen upgrading process) being built toward the sky like two biblical towers of Babel. Then comes the last major and probably most absurd element of insanity on the Highway 63 loop: the buffalo demonstration project and reclamation site.