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Take an 8-mile trek with indigenous groups through one of the world’s largest ecological dead zones, and you might find something lifegiving.
By Kristin Moe
Aug 20, 2012
The column of people stretched out along the road that cut a straight line through the desert, and disappeared into a dusty yellow haze. This was an unnatural desert, human-made; a few decades ago, it was boreal forest, deep and cool. Now it’s gray sand—a byproduct, I’m told, of the tar sands refining. The desert stretches out to the horizon, and seems to have no end.
August 4 was the third annual Healing Walk through the tar sands, an eight-mile trek through one of the world’s largest ecological dead zones. Hundreds gathered from all over North America to support members of native communities who are on the front lines of the tar sands fight. They come to heal not only the land, but themselves. Among the walkers were several residents of Fort Chipewyan, one of the communities hit hardest by industrial contamination of water and air. Cancer rates there are abnormally high.
When one is poisoned, as this land is, the other cannot survive.
This is their traditional land. And while the Alberta tar sands is the biggest and perhaps the most notorious example of extraction on indigenous territory, it represents a universal trend. For indigenous communities, it’s not about real estate. It’s about a culture and an identity that is woven so tightly into the physical landscape such that the two cannot be separated. When one is poisoned, as this land is, the other cannot survive.
Roland Woodward is an Elder from Anzac, a small community in the middle of the tar sands. “I grew up on this land,” he says. “I don’t imagine the sick people. I know that the oil sands are causing health concerns. So that’s why we started the Healing Walk: to heal the land, heal the people.”
The tar sands cover an area about the size of New York state, and much of that has already been leased for extraction. While at the moment mining operations have only uncovered between 200 and 300 square miles, government and industry seek to accelerate that in the coming years.
The drivers of these trucks—working 12-hour shifts and many living in the crowded, dreary work camps we passed along the way—were supporting us.
The hot wind mixed the sand with noxious fumes that billowed in from a processing plant operated by Syncrude, the largest extractor of tar sands oil. People complained of headaches and a dry scratching tightness in the backs of their throats.
Natives and non-natives walked together, talking, laughing, and stopping together to pray. Mothers pushed children in strollers when they were too tired to walk. After all, it’s their generation that will inherit this fight.
I was surprised by what seemed like friendly honks of the trucks as they thundered past us along the road. A woman from Idaho agreed with me: at similar events in the States, we’re routinely met with counter protests, anger, verbal abuse. But by and large, the drivers of these trucks—working 12-hour shifts and many living in the crowded, dreary work camps we passed along the way—were supporting us. I turned to my walking companion, Mike Mercredi, who spent 10 years working in the oil patch. Where do these truck drivers stand? I asked.
This is our traditional territory and they know that, he told me. What’s more, many of them agree with us in principle, and they can see with their own eyes that this destruction is out of control. He said that he occasionally gets words of encouragement—a furtive, whispered, “Good job, Mike”—from fellow workers who aren’t able to support him publicly.
Mike left his job when he started making connections between the recent crop of cancers in his family in Fort Chipewyan, which has now gained notoriety for being the community that sounded the alarm about rare cancers and deformed fish. He’s been speaking out about the tar sands ever since and is working on youth programs to reconnect young people with their culture, language, and lands.
“Do you have hope?” I asked him.
“Hope? No. No, I wouldn’t say that.” He paused. “Hope is dangerous.”
Hope, he told me, implies uncertainty; it means that your success is dependent on other factors, and that there’s a chance of disappointment or failure. Here, we’re not hoping. We’re doing. With so many people here to fight with us, we’re already making a difference.
I looked out at that long column of people who had come so far to trudge down this long, bleak road. Despite our numbers, we looked small, dwarfed by the vastness of the deserted landscape. But I couldn’t help it: I felt a twinge of hope.
Kristin Moe wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Kristin is a writer and climate justice activist from the U.S., spending three months in Alberta writing about the social and cultural impacts of the tar sands. Read more of her work at profannecology.tumblr.com.
- Prevent a Tar Sands Disaster
Why developing the tarsands has been called “world’s most destructive project.”
- In Photos: The True Cost of the Tar Sands
Conservation photographer Garth Lenz’s exhibition seeks to show the impact of tar sands oil extraction.
- Our Most Urgent Climate Struggles—And How We Might Win Them
Bill McKibben: In the mighty struggles beginning between climate activists and the fossil fuel industry, geography is on our side.
Ecology, Community and Wisdom (2012, 15 mins., 30 secs.) premiered on Earth Day at the Saskatchewan Eco Network’s Regina Environmental Film Festival, April 22, 2012. First inspired by a talk given by Dr. Helen Caldicott at the University of Regina in 2007, this video was directed by Nora Gardner and dedicated to her two daughters. ECW offers an eco-feminist view of some of the community activist endeavours over the past five years that have taken place in Regina, SK. ECW contains interviews with Andrea and Ema Gardner, Patricia Miller-Schroeder (Women’s and Gender Studies, U of R), Malin Hansen and Denise MacDonald (Regina EcoLiving), Terri Sleeva and Susana Deranger (Mother Earth Justice Advocates ((MEJA), among many other activities). Original music by Joelle Fuller. Funded by the Saskatchewan Filmpool Cooperative and the National Film Board of Canada.
About Nora G. Gardner
Born: Regina, SK. Currently working at the University of Regina as a Sessional Lecturer with International students in the ESL Program. She is continuing her studies with an M.A. in sociology, researching activism in the community, in general and climate change, ecological citizenship, and sustainable consumption, in particular.
A WORLDWIDE CALL FOR YOUTH TESTIMONIALS ON THE IMPORTANCE OF HONOURING AND PROTECTING SACRED WATER AND MOTHER EARTH
Mother Earth Justice Advocates (MEJA) calls out to all youth from the ages of 12-30 worldwide who wish to join collectively to create a message of hope and unity as well as share what is happening in their part of their world to submit testimonials on the importance of honouring and protecting everyone’s Sacred Water and Mother Earth.
MEJA is a Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada based group that advocates for the rights of Mother Earth through climate justice activities is in the process of collecting these testimonials in recognition of the urgency of the times and the immanent destruction of Mother Earth and the Sacred Water that sustains her and with the belief that the youth are the hope for tomorrow.
MEJA will showcase all testimonials on their website motherearthjusticeadvocates.com and has created a yahoo group for each and every person who has submitted testimonials to be able to join and further their communication and understandings of one another and the stare of Mother Earth and Sacred Water. This group is located at http://ca.groups.yahoo.com/group/motherearthjusticeadvocatesgroup/
Further down the road MEJA will be looking for funds to host a gathering of the youth involved in submitting testimonials in order for them to be able to meet face to face and interact with one another and Elders with the potential to collaborate to collectively and to affect positive change across Mother Earth.
Submissions will be accepted in the form of cell phone videos, youtube videos, and in written form for those who do not have access to any type of video technology.
All submissions are to be sent to email@example.com .
We look forward to your submissions and know that together we can love, honour, and protect Mother Earth and the Sacred Water so that the future generations can live in a healthy world filled with abundance for all.
Mother Earth Justice Advocates is in the process of collecting testimonials from around the world testifying to the value of water to people and life around our planet. Let us protect Mother Earth and her riches
Keep tuned to this website for further information and postings.
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
United Way Community Room
1440 Scarth Street
Summary Of Rio +20 International Conference Of Indigenous Peoples On Self-Determination And Sustainable Development
Indigenous Peoples Global Steering Committee for Rio+20
The Rio+20 International Conference of Indigenous Peoples on Self-Determination and Sustainable Development concluded on June 19, 2012: “United for our food sovereignty, traditional cultures and ways of life,” with the adoption by consensus the final Declaration. The conference was convened by the Committee for the Global Coordination of Indigenous Peoples Rio+20 with participation of representatives of Indigenous networks and organizations from seven regions of the world and the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. This Committee was established in August 2011 at the Indigenous Peoples Preparatory Meeting for Rio +20 in Manaus, Brazil. From that date forward seven regional preparatory meetings took place where an assessment was made of the Plan of Action which was adopted in Johannesburg en 2002. Indigenous Peoples promoted their central messages during the last few months for these messages to be considered by the governments in political declaration at Río +20.
During the Conference, 250 Indigenous women, men, youth, leaders, spiritual leaders, experts from global, continental, national, regional networks from Asia, Africa, North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, Russia, the Arctic and the Pacific. Some of the organizations involved are the following: the International Forum of Indigenous Women, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact- AIPACC, International Indian Treaty Council (IITC), la Enlace Continental de Mujeres Indígenas de las Américas (ECMIA), la Coordinadora Andina de Organizaciones Indígenas (CAOI), la Coordinadora de Organizaciones indígenas de Centro America (CICA), la Coordinadora de organizaciones indígenas de Mesoamerica- (CIMA), Indigenous organization of Russia – RAIPON, the Circumpolar Council of Arctic Organizations, the global network Indigenous youth, among others. Other organizations that participated include, AMAMN de Indonesia, MPIDO of Kenya, the Autonomous Regional Council of North Atlantic Nicaragua, ONIC of Colombia, CONFENAIE of Ecuador, Confederación de Mujeres Campesinas e Indígenas Bartolina Sisas de Bolivia, DENE Nation of North West Territories of Canada, Bangsa Adat Alifuri of Malaku and the Sami Parliament of Finland, among others. Continue reading