FORT MCMURRAY, ALBERTA--(Marketwired - Jul 6, 2013) - First Nations, Metis, and settlers in the Athabasca Watershed and surrounding regions are calling on the federal and provincial governments to meet with them and develop a plan to address the reckless expansion of the tar sands. They were joined today by hundreds of people from across Canada and the U.S., including climate and democracy advocates, in the 4th Annual Healing Walk, a peaceful gathering to raise awareness of the human, environmental and climate impacts on the local community of expansion of tar the sands.
"We cannot argue that the tar sands bring employment and economic prosperity," said Chief Allan Adams, leader of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. "But the pace and scale of this development also bring with them destruction, risk and devastation. Do we say yes to jobs while sacrificing our ability to pass on our culture to the next generation? Are we ok to accept a pay cheque while we watch our land and water being turned toxic, preventing us from hunting and fishing? We will not be forced to sacrifice our culture and way of life."
Organized by the Keepers of the Athabasca, the Healing Walk (www.healingwalk.org) is a 14-kilometer journey that weaves its way through the heart of tar sands development along Highway 63. Politicians, environmental groups, supporters of social justice, labour leaders, aboriginal community members and the general public walk alongside First Nations elders who lead the healing event with prayer and ceremony.
"The planned expansion of the tar sands will result in a 250% increase in carbon pollution over the next 15-20 years. With what we know about the science of climate change today and what we have witnessed in terms of heat waves, forest fires, and floods, this planned expansion is crazy - for the people here in northern Alberta, for the people across Canada, and for the planet," said Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and renowned climate activist. "At the Healing Walk we take the time to heal and remind ourselves that we are a community with a real chance to shape the world to come."
Member of the Lubicon Cree Nation, whose territory is impacted by the expansion, Melina Laboucan-Massimo agrees, "I'm walking today because I believe the people and land need to be given time and space to heal and local voices need to be heard and respected. I have witnessed an oil spill in my territory. I have seen forest fires that could be linked to climate change. I am increasingly concerned about my community and the planned expansion of the tar sands. We need time to heal. We also need to find a way to protect our communities from tar sands expansion."
"This is a place built for the largest trucks and bulldozers in the world. Spending the day slowly walking on this scarred and poisoned land -- having our skin covered in its dust and our lungs stinging with its toxins -- is to know that it's not just the roads that are hostile to people," added Naomi Klein, an award winning journalist, author and climate activist. "This entire industrial project is incompatible with human life. Today the impacts are mostly felt by local Indigenous peoples but if we do not heed their calls for healing, similarly devastating impacts will be felt globally. There is still time."
Healing Walk organizers had invited Minister Joe Oliver and Premier Alison Redford to attend this year's walk and an online petition gathered well over 11,000 signatures supporting the request. Neither politician attended the event.
Photos and video from the journey can be found at www.healingwalk.org.