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Field Notes From the Fifth (and Final) Tar Sands Healing Walk


This post originally appeared on West Coast Environmental Law’s Environmental Law Alert

Getting to the Tar Sands

June 28, 2014 marked the 5th and final Tar Sands Healing Walk, a grassroots event organized by local Indigenous communities in the heart of the tar sands development. This was not a protest or a march, nor was it about disrupting the work of the energy companies; it was about the people and their land and maintaining the ecological and spiritual connection to it. As Cleo Reece of Fort McMurray First Nation explained, “this walk is not just for the people, it is also for the eagles, and the bears, and the water.”

(photo: Eugene Kung)


Our hosts were the five local First Nations comprising the Athabasca Tribal Council (Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Fort McKay First Nation, Chipewyan Prairie First Nation, Fort McMurray First Nation and Mikisew First Nation) and the Metis Nation. I was grateful for the opportunity to attend along with West Coast Environmental Law staff lawyer Eugene Kung. The trip was filled with inspiring, transformative, sometimes disturbing and always thought-provoking experiences.

The Healing Walk base camp is an 18 hour drive from Vancouver, so getting there was an adventure in itself. Inspired by Winona LaDuke’s stories of riding her horses up the proposed routes of the Alberta Clipper, Keystone XL and Enbridge Sandpiper pipelinesthat we heard at the Stommish Sacred Summit, we followed the Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline route, from the Lower Mainland through Meritt, and Kamloops, through Jasper to Edmonton, and then on to Fort McMurray. On the way we passed at least a dozen trucks carrying giant pipes, all converging on northern Alberta.

(photo: Eugene Kung)

The lakes and cliffs of the Rockies were majestic in their beauty. The wildlife also made an appearance, with mountain goats, grizzly bears and the rare caribou gracefully ignoring gawking motorists. I was all the more disappointed to later learn that Kinder Morgan has already quietly completed the expansion of a section of its Trans Mountain pipeline going through Jasper as a separate project, so that its impacts o