While studying at the University of Ottawa, I attended a conference called PowerShift, where I first came to learn about the Tar Sands. I learned about the impact on Indigenous communities, about the link between Tar Sands destruction and climate change, causing displacement and death for people for people around the world. I knew in my gut I had to speak out, but I was afraid.
I thought about speaking out when performing in a talk-back session after a play I performed in called “Iron Sticks,” but an organizer of the event advised me not to. He said it might trigger Conservative friends, and I did not have the courage to disobey.
Then I came to know the people who live in areas surrounded by Tar Sands. There is the woman from Fort McKay whose home is literally surrounded by oil rigs. She can take only two-minute showers because the water is contaminated. Her family members are dying of cancer, and she fears for her son’s future.
I met a teacher and mother from the Beaver Lake Cree Nation whose family is forced to choose between living their way of life, or making money. A mother from Fort Chip who fears eating the fish — which have deformities — and where people are living with rare cancers.
These people became friends, and I didn’t want this suffering to befall the people I care about.
Through conversations with my new friends I came to learn how this was linked to theft of their land and assimilation of Indigenous Peoples, killing many people’s identities and spirit, to make way for oil sands
When I met these Indigenous women and learned about their everyday struggles, and their incredible strength, it gave me strength.
That is why I am so excited about the Healing Walk taking place July 5th and 6th in Fort McMurray, Alberta.
The Healing Walk is an opportunity for people from across the country to meet these amazing women, and many others, who are most impacted by oil sands development– to hear their stories. To feel their resolve and strength as they confront this industry, a strength which is highly contagious.
This is not a traditional protest, but a walk led by First Nations communities to call for an end of the destruction of the oil sands, and to start the healing.
And it is not just the responsibility of those most impacted to fight this. This is our collective responsibility.
Not only because of our shared humanity and concern for one another, but also because, as people from Canada, many of us have benefited from and contributed to oil sands destruction at the expense of the well-being of others.
My parents and grandparents worked for the oil industry. It paid for much of my schooling, for my soccer and basketball. Whether or not we did so consciously, we contributed to the problem.
This is not about guilt, but about taking responsibility — to stand with these women and their communities to stop the destruction.
And to start the healing.
The Healing Walk will also open up space to talk about solutions. Green jobs in community-controlled renewable energies. Respect for Indigenous Rights, as has been building with Idle No More. Fundamental political and cultural transformation.
A few years ago, I was too scared to take a stand about the tar sands. But today, I’m excited for the chance to stand with friends and family against tar sands destruction.
I can’t wait to be there, and to see the incredible support that is building for this. Four years ago, at the first Healing Walk, 40-50 people joined together for it. This year, over 500 people will be joining, including speakers like award winning journalist Naomi Klein, Annishnabe activist and economist Winona Laduke, and Bill McKibben of 350.org. And over 7,000 people have sent invitations to Minister Joe Oliver and Premiere of Alberta Allison Redford.
Will you join us for the 4th Annual Healing Walk?
Brigette DePape is an organizer with SHD.ca
This article was originally published in Vancouver Observer and it is reprinted here with permission.