Yesterday, for the fifth and final year, First Nations people from Alberta were joined by other native and non-native Candians, and by people from around the world, to undertake a spiritual walk around the toxic industrial mine site that is the Athabasca Tar Sands.
They have chosen once again to make the difficult journey, exposing themselves to petro-chemical vapors that lay heavy in the air at the site, in order to raise awareness of the assault on native Albertans’ health and the global threat that the massive extraction operation represents.
“During the Healing Walk, hundreds of people walk 9 miles through what were once traditional hunting, fishing and gathering grounds, but are now wide expanses of strip mining and drilling that constitute one of the largest industrial undertakings the world has ever seen. There, they offer healing prayers for the land and build unity among people impacted by tar sands development through panel discussions, workshops, music and drumming.”
Climate Change experts have warned that fully exploiting the sticky reserves of the Tar Sands could mean the end of life on earth as we know it, greatly accelerating the all ready frightening speed at which our global ecosystem is being forced out of its sustainable “sweet spot.”
This year, Vermont is taking it personally.
A group of Vermonters who share concerns about air and water pollution and are actively working to stop the plan to move tar sands oil through an aging pipeline in the Northeast Kingdom, pooled their resources to send KC Whiteley of Montpelier to Alberta to join the Healing Walk and bring a message of solidarity from Vermont.
“Vermonters care about their land just as the First Nations people in Alberta care about theirs,” Whiteley said. “We want to show our support for their cause, and I will bring their stories home.”
Even as the First Nations group assembled to walk in Alberta, Rep. Peter Welch continued the fight to prevent passage of a bill that would open Vermont as a corridor for moving tar sands oil to east coast refineries. Such an “accommodating” arrangement would have real potential to befoul local waters and contaminate farmland; and that’s before the carbon payload is unleashed on the rest of the world.
The National Wildlife Federation reports that organizers of the Healing Walk plan to hold future events in other locations impacted by tar sands extraction and processing.
If Congress can’t be dissuaded, in some coming year, that could be Vermont.