HEALING WALK

2014, Digital Photographs.

On assignment for the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.

Hundreds from First Nations communities, environmental justice organizations, and non-Natives from Canada, the U.S., and the world arrived in Fort McMurray, Alberta to take part in the fourth annual Healing Walk, a prayer walk to get tar sands and the Keystone Xl pipeline off of Indigenous lands. Tar sands oil and the Keystone XL Pipeline, the two largest industrial projects in the world, will result in 2,000 miles of pipeline tunneling through Alberta to the Gulf Coast of Texas carrying the heaviest, stickiest, and most viscous oil on Earth. Tar sands oil is a concoction of sand, clay, and bitumen, bitumen being the tarry petroleum that oil corporations are after. Much of it hides beneath the Boreal Forest, the second-largest intact ecosystem, where the only two methods of excavating it are mining, which means clear-cutting the forest, hollowing the wetlands, and extracting all other “overburden”, or in situ (onsite) drilling. As moon-shaped craters plummet thousands of feet, the process of “reclamation” follows, where fields of prairie grasslands purposefully replace the once cascading forest.

“They can’t reclaim the forest because the forest has relationships with the plants and the animals- the interrelationship with other life forms- that have taken thousands of years to build. All they are doing is covering it up: they clear cut and then plant grass.”

— Ernie Lenie, Dene First Nation

There have been over 29,000 pipeline spills gushing out volumes of crude oil in Alberta from 1975 to 2013, an average of 2 crude oil spills a day. These spills are impossible to clean up because this particular oil, bitumen, sinks. Already waterways are poisoned miles and miles downstream, impacting both food, water, and health security for the Athabasca Chipewyan, Beaver Lake Cree, Mikisew Cree, the Chipewyan Prairie Dene, and Metis First NationsAlready cancer, animal extinction, and carbon emissions rates have skyrocketed. Currently, only 3% of crude tar sands oil has been extracted.

"My niece and I went fishing and we collected 4 big buckets of fish that were fished from our rivers. We opened the buckets and every single fish was infected. Before we were able to take our cup and drink straight from our lake but now when we take a dip in the lake, we are kissed by measles- red spots everywhere.” —Nancy Canie, grandmother of the Dene First Nation.