Completing the Loop, by Raegan Mallinson

Looking out the microbus windows into a heavy, grey fog lingering over the massive Athabasca River, my mind wanders to memories of last year’s tar sands Healing Walk. A feeling of apprehension and nostalgia swirl around, creating an unexpected anxiety in returning to the land of intensive industry and rapid resource extraction.

Having been born and raised in Calgary, Alberta, the oil industry has been a pillar of my adolescent life. It was the norm for my Dad and little brother to leave every second week for shift work in Fort McMurray, as was the expectation that my Environmental Science degree be used for a career in one of the large-scale, multi-million dollar oil companies. The side of the industry that I had experienced was shiny and new; the way of life for prosperous survival in Southern Alberta.

I arrived at Indian Beach, Anzac to open arms and welcome by the host and surrounding First Nation last year, and listened to stories of destruction to their land, water and families. I witnessed Elders cry for the future of their grandchildren as one entered the world, born one night in a tipi next to our tents. I saw the Soviet-style residences that our fathers and brothers were retiring into every night for dreams of a brighter future for their children, and it released deeply clenched tears onto the moonscape tailings pond sands on which I stood, feeling kicked in the stomach by my own ignorance.

Remembering the eye-opening, humbling and healing experience of 2013, I’ve followed the Athabasca River from its headwaters with my own Living Lakes Canada tribe. Discovering the natural treasures of the boreal forest, while listening to announcements of approved pipelines and of recognized treaty rights and titles, I find that the land of contrasts fosters a feeling of unease, of separation, and of tension between families, communities, provinces and the self. During this year’s Healing Walk keeping the intention to remain open proved challenging. Talks of relocating entire Nations due to pollution, of an overall community anxiety and of not being able to survive off the contaminated land, perpetuated this feeling further.

As we made our way around the 16 km loop between the Syncrude and Suncor tailings ponds and smoke stacks, prayers and offerings were performed to the four directions. Facing north, an Elder spoke of letting go of fear and anger, and of making space for positivity and unity to enter the movement against the destruction of the land, water, and people. My initial apprehension and anxiety were replaced with hope and a lightness; a space to move forward and an extra beat in my step.

Watching the Healing Walk round the final corner – completing the loop –from atop the microbus, affirmed the positivity and hope building with each step. New beginnings were formed with foundations in unity, acceptance and compassion. Learning from each other and from the past will create a brighter future for ourselves and generations yet unborn; it is time to complete the loop and return to a sincere relationship with each other and with our world.

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