Retired educator Terry Dance-Bennink took a huge step of courage that changed her life. Last September she went on a pilgrimage from Victoria into the dark heart of the tar-sands, to witness one of the largest oil development projects in the world devastating the land and the people of northern Alberta. She came back to Victoria to support a multifaith tar-sands Healing Walk, which will be held on June 28th.
Terry left the comfort of her Victoria home and traveled from the pristine headwaters of the Athabasca River to its toxic flow near Ft McKay. She saw the gigantic tailings lakes filled with wildlife-killing toxic chemicals that encompass 170 sq. km. of the northern wilderness.
“I actually held bitumen in my hand, the sticky tarlike substance that will sink deep into soil and water in the event of an oil spill,” she recalled.
She smelled the sulphur-laden air that seared her lungs. She touched the contaminated tap water in a First Nations community that is laced with chemicals and undrinkable. Newborns and pregnant women are warned not to use the water even for washing. She grieved with local residents and heard stories of high incidences of cancer and immune disease deaths caused by the contaminated environment.
Reflecting on the surface mining operation that resembled a moonscape in all directions she asked, “How many trees, plants, frogs, and insects have died to satisfy our addiction to oil? I felt sick to my stomach.”
Earlier this month, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace laureate famous for his liberating leadership in the South African anti-apartheid movement, also made a pilgrimage to the tar sands and added his voice calling for an end to further tar-sands development.
“The fact that this filth is being created now, when the link between carbon emissions and global warming is so obvious, reflects negligence and greed,” Tutu told more than 200 rapt attendees a conference on oil sands development and treaty rights in Fort McMurray.
“The oil sands are emblematic of an era of high carbon and high-risk fuels that must end if we are committed to a safer climate.”
“Oil sands development not only devastates our shared climate, it is also stripping away the rights of First Nations and affected communities to protect their children, land and water from being poisoned.”
Pilgrimages are about traveling to places of spiritual significance. Places that speak of the sacred and offer possibility for healing and personal transformation. Places that can change the direction of one’s life.
Terry’s pilgrimage to the tar sands brought her face-to-face with the truth of what our insatiable desire for oil is doing to our environment. Confronting this reality head-on inspired her to take action.
The Healing Walk in Victoria will be held on Saturday June 28 from 1-4 pm, at the same time as the annual walk in Fort McMurray, sponsored by First Nations and the Keepers of the Athabasca. It will start at the water’s edge, Delta Ocean Pointe Hotel. It will be a spiritual walk, not a protest march and the aim is to lift up the healing of the tar-sands through ritual, prayer and reflection.
Terry says that the grassroots team participating in the Healing Walk represent many faith traditions, including members of Kairos, the United Church, the Anglican Church, the Sisters of St. Ann, Unitarians, Quakers, Esquimalt Baha’i, The UVic Meditation Club, and the Buddhist community.
“It’s a wonderful example of a grass-roots alliance, so desperately needed if we’re to stop the expansion of pipelines and tankers and restore integrity to the tar-sands wasteland.
Originally appeared in the Times Colonist on June 21, 2014.