I came back a changed woman after my river pilgrimage to the tar sands last September and was more determined than ever to take action. After sharing my story at my local church, Esquimalt United minister Leanne Benoit wanted to do something here on Vancouver Island.
“I naively wondered, how can this happen in Canada that people are becoming ill from drinking their tap water and new mothers are warned not to bathe their infants in the local water?” Leanne asked.
“It makes me wonder about the dynamics of power and politics when projects, which harm earth and its inhabitants, are located near people of racial minority or are living in poverty,” Leanne said.
To my delight, Leanne suggested we hold a solidarity healing walk in Victoria this June at the same time as the annual healing walk in Fort McMurray, which is organized by First Nations and the Keepers of the Athabasca.
Since then Leanne’s idea has taken off, proving that all you need is a creative idea and a small group of grey-haired but faith-filled organizers! The Justice & Outreach team at Esquimalt United began organizing the event and we now have more than 15 representatives from many faith traditions involved.
Our grassroots team represents faith traditions including members of Kairos, the United Church, the Anglican Church, the Sisters of St. Ann, Unitarians, Quakers, Esquimalt Baha’i and the Buddhist community. Sierra Club BC and Dogwood Initiative are active participants and we’ve invited the Songhees First Nation to lead our opening ceremony. The Keepers of the Athbasca have blessed our initiative.
What we’re organizing is a spiritual walk – not a protest march – on Saturday, June 28 from 1-4 p.m. through downtown Victoria on the holiday weekend. We’ll lift up the healing of the tar sands through ritual, prayer and reflection.
What makes this walk different from others is that we’re reaching out directly to our faith communities, as posters and emails are not enough. Team members are speaking to church members at local services and explaining the purpose and urgency of this act of solidarity. We’re building awareness as well as taking action.
Despite our faith differences, we all get along! We tease each other, laugh a lot and have fun. It’s a wonderful example of a grass-roots alliance so desperately needed if we’re to stop the expansion of pipelines and oil tankers and restore integrity to the tar sands wasteland.
Healing walk member Ted Mousseau says in Zen Buddhism, we learn of the interconnectedness of all things – that everything we do affects everything else.
“We also learn to take responsibility for everything that comes to our awareness, without judgement of others. When all is interconnected, there cannot really be an ‘other’. That is why our spiritually-based multi-faith healing walk is important to me,” Ted says.
Reaching out to our peers hasn’t always been easy as some people balk at opposing tar sands expansion due to personal investments or jobs, but we hold up the example of our founders to build courage. We acknowledge that rapid tar sands development has had a devastating impact on First Nations, undermined their right to clean air and water and infringed on their indigenous rights.
“Having an opportunity to walk in solidarity with the Keepers of the Athabasca – to take a stand and make a public statement about healing the earth – is nothing less than an act of empowerment,” said Elaine Hooper, United Church and Kairos member.
Another Kairos member, Susan Draper, believes we’re all spiritual warriors who need to work together. “We’re people who refuse to accept the status quo and know that there is another way of living on this beautiful planet,” Susan says.
It’s very simple: we are faithful people eager for a new relationship with the earth and are focusing our efforts on the healing of the tar sands.
At our closing ceremony, we’ll take up a collection for RAVEN, the fundraising arm for many First Nations legal challenges.
Please join us – all are welcome!
Tar Sands Healing Walk
Saturday June 28, 1-4 p.m.
Gather at water’s edge, Delta Victoria Hotel, 45 Songhees Rd
Closing ceremony – 3:30 p.m., First Metropolitan United Church, 932 Balmoral Rd