By Dulce Maria Gonzalez Ramirez, 2nd year MDP student
The weekend of June 27-29th was the fifth and final Tar Sands Healing Walk in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Manna and I joined, hundreds of First Nations, environmentalists, activists and other folks from across Canada, the United States, and far beyond to walk together along the Syncrude Loop. This was not a protest or a rally but a different way to connect the issues and mass environmental destruction that has been affecting people, land, water, air and other beings.
On Friday they held a series of workshops emphasizing the litigation processes, the violation of rights such as the lack of free prior and informed consent/consultation, violation of treaties, the environmental and health issues such as rare cancers and lupus. It was very interesting to listen to Dr. John O'Connor as part of the health panel talking not only about his research but also about the harassment from the government stopping him to publish his findings and chasing him away from the province. Then, we all questioned, if civil disobedience the option? Well, in the United States marches and unity helped to stop war in Vietnam.
On Saturday, after a pipe ceremony we were guided by elder women around the Syncrude loop. The caravan stopped in four main points to pray and put down offerings. These were powerful collective moments of reflection and prayer.
As part of the landscape, we saw how the company has guns going off and scarecrows looking like workers all around tail ponds. Still the birds are attracted to them because they look like small lakes from above. In 2012, due to extreme cold weather a flock of birds flew down into the water and all died. The company was taken to court, but the verdict was that the birds were at fault! It seems that the law is made to protect the companies more than the environment.
In some First Nations communities like Fort McKay located along the banks of the Athabasca River, there are reaping some benefits such as building new resource centers. However, they eventually will need to be relocated because the water is becoming unusable and filled with chemicals that cause cancers. Water needs to be brought in to the community. Even after hundreds of years, the chemicals will stay in that land, what is the “great legacy” for the next generations?
After the weekend, it was clear to me that rallies or other movements can raise awareness, but issues keep growing while government keeps claiming “development.” At the same time, I questioned my own role, commitment and responsibility:
|Dulce Gonzalez Ramirez|
Many First Nations and allies are fighting NOT to get a bigger share of the economic benefits, but to avoid the devastation. Gitz Crazyboy (Dene/Blackfoot), a youth worker working against the injustices of development, in his first big protests said that frustration, anger and other feelings will go away but love will remain. Through all this is the recognition of the love for their people and their land because “Love is the movement.”