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writing for godot

The Great Canadian Scandal: Tar Sands Healing Walk Addresses Petro-State Fascism

Written by Matt Hanson   
Monday, 16 September 2013 15:39
“It's a scandal,” environmental activist Tzeporah Berman shouted to an encamped crowd at Indian Beach the night before the Healing Walk. Imagine, each and every CEO to all the employees of the oil and gas industry, blatantly raping their mother and profiting obscenely in the act. The Tar Sands scandal has gone viral. The proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline “is probably the most controversial project in the history of British Colombia other than perhaps Claquoyot Sound logging operations,” said Ben West, Forest Ethics Tar Sands Campaign Director, at a Project Ploughshares event in Calgary on April 27.

"It’s been the #1 talked about news story in British Colombia now for two years running. In fact there is a study that was done that shows all the next five stories, in terms of coverage, if you combined all the coverage, still did not get as much coverage as the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline in the last two years."

The entire world is a voyeur to the most heinous crime of physical abuse on Earth today. “All fights, all battles for the planet are important, but some are more important than others. And there is no battle on the face of the Earth more important than what’s going on here in Alberta,” Bill McKibben, climate change scientist and founder of, said for the outdoor press conference immediately prior to the beginning of the Healing Walk. “There are three or four places on planet Earth where there is enough carbon below the soil, that if it gets dug up and burned, then there is no chance that we’ll ever stabilize this planet’s climate, and this is one of them.”

Yet, since 1967, when the first commercial project began to exploit the Athabasca Tar Sands, the crime intensifies to the benefit of a society corrupted by cheap oil across Canada, and around the world. “From the seven pipeline spills in the last five weeks, we know that oil corrodes, and what we’re just beginning to learn is that it’s not just corroding our pipelines,” Berman asserted. “Oil in Canada is corroding our democracy.”

The 4th Annual Healing Walk, attended by about five hundred demonstrators, sent a clear message: local people matter, have voice and are strongly represented across the country and the world. While international activism often necessitates globalization and fossil fuels to wage peace on the Tar Sands, the First Nations in and around Fort McMurray, the Athabasca Chipewyan and Dene peoples, are leading humankind by simply walking, in prayer to the Four Directions. Because of ancient wisdom and the spirit of traditional ceremony and community, industrial traffic slowed to a near halt as far as the eye could see on July 6 around the 14km Syncrude Tailings Loop.

“When I went into that town of Fort McMurray, you know what it reminds me of, it reminds me of going into the town that’s the ecological equivalent of Auschwitz,” Anishinaabe author Winona LaDuke proclaimed during her keynote speech the night before the Healing Walk.

“The town that’s sitting right next to Auschwitz and saying, ‘Hey, we’re good here, you can get a $35 steak, you can get an $18 hamburger and it’s okay.’ There’s something just psychotically wrong with all that.”

LaDuke’s Auschwitz comparison, especially in the light of modern consumer culture, is significant. Another outspoken critic of power politics, Hannah Arendt, had once led a scandal, transforming international dialogue on the perpetrations of Auschwitz into a parable of modern life. Arendt’s notion of the “banality of evil” speaks to the mass consumerism that fuels the current destruction of the planet. Status quo consumer society encourages technology and energy overconsumption. One tier of society justifies through intellectual analysis regarding energy, society and the environment, while most are overwhelmed by the unreasonable complicity of leadership.

Therefore, most people remain ignorant of the fact that their immediate, daily actions cause the very atrocities committed against marginalized people and the environment. Espoused in 1961 during the Eichmann Trial, the philosophy behind Arendt’s “banality of evil” teaches how everyday people perpetrate the greatest crimes of humanity, often more so than their leaders. The idea is slowly gaining acceptance among genocide scholars, such as in Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s Worse Than War.

“If you breathe air and you drink water, this is about you,” Crystal Lameman, Treaty 6 activist of Beaver Lake Cree Nation, declared at the beginning of the Healing Walk at Crane Lake Park. If the great-grandchildren of Canada look back on the current generation, will they see the current society as people of today see Nazi Germany? As the Jews were liquidated for business purposes, so the Earth and its First Peoples are being bought and sold, and killed in the process, for the liquidation of bitumen tar into petroleum gasoline. Every day, Canadians are told that progress must continue and economic growth must never regress for any sake outside of myopic anthropocentricism and politicized Canadian values.

“On the eve of the NEB hearings for the Enbridge pipeline, when our National Minister of Natural Resources put an open letter to Canadians [in the Globe and Mail], calling anyone who opposed these pipelines a terrorist,” Berman reminded demonstrators camped only fifteen minutes away from Fort McMurray. “Essentially saying that if you express concerns then you are acting against Canada’s national interests, that you are an enemy.” When environmentalists and Aboriginal peoples who oppose pipeline development are deemed terrorists, political-economic rhetoric in Canada begins to look more like that of the Department of National Defence.

Dissuading public debate is typically fascist. The undemocratic nature of the petro-state further supports the colonial Eurocentric project of civilization, where marginalized minorities, such as Indigenous peoples, are meant to suffer the growing pains of modernization. Indeed, modern progress is often underhandedly defined by the achievements of warfare and genocide against marginal ways of life.

The Canadian infrastructure, as with much of the world, is dependent on the continued suffering, and the scandalous crimes, of the continued power imbalances from the colonial past. “We’ve got to feed these people that consume a third of the world’s resources. That requires pretty much constant intervention into other peoples’ territories, whether they’re Dene, Anishnaabe, Cree, or whether they’re in Venezuela,” LaDuke said with a voice of experience and reason at the Healing Walk. “Constant intervention into other peoples’ territories to keep up this level of entitlement.”

Today, there is global complicity in the status quo, in the consumers and beneficiaries of non-renewable energy resources, and its concomitant intergovernmental policies. If Canada survives into the future as a memorable entity, people may look back on the country as yet committers of yet a deeper atrocity, against Earth, and as with a genocidal inclination towards the entire human race.

Will others follow in the example of the First Nations of the Athabasca river basin, whose warnings resound with deep socio-ecological truth? Will Healing Walks spring from the people across the Earth, so that in the name and significance of Mother, the destruction stops and healing starts? Are people around the world willing to stop the destruction and walk for the healing of the Earth, to find a path that slows the destructive course of industry (business) as usual and that offers, not one direction alone, but Four Directions, whole and undivided? When will people begin to pray through movement, action, and participation?

Around the same time that unparalleled innovations in alternative energy came to the fore, there was a great leap in Western consciousness of natural philosophy. Contemporary science is providing the world with unprecedented advances in material technology and innovation. “The last two years, we have seen more advances in clean energy, in renewable energy and technology, than the last twenty years,” said Berman, at the close of her keynote speech at the Healing Walk conference at Indian Beach. “The last two years were the first two years in human history where new investment in electricity generation for renewable energy, for wind, for solar exceeded new investment for electricity in oil, coal, and nuclear combined!” Nonetheless, today there is a greater vacuum of innovation, and that is within the human mind. The current struggle for life on Earth is within each and every human being bridging the great rift between modern life and ancient wisdom.

“I think what has to happen is a change in understanding. It’s not a matter of power, or of muscle or of energy,” the late philosopher Alan Watts said in the documentary, Zen.

"It’s a matter of the way in which we understand and feel our own existence, not as strangers in a hostile universe, but as integral parts of that universe, as fruits of the universe, in the same way as an apple is a fruit of a tree we are a fruit of this galaxy, we belong to it, we are something it’s doing, but we don’t feel that."

Similarly, in the name of modern physics, the same basic knowledge that allows for the expansion of physical technology offers renewed integrations between ancient wisdom and modern life. The same way of applied thinking – that might destroy life on Earth when derived from philosophies of conquering nature and ethno-cultural assimilation – would also affirm interconnectedness with all forms of life.

Yet, petro-state fascism muzzles scientific inquiry that affirms rootedness, while ensnaring science with political ideology. “The internationally recognized journal of Nature this year, in an editorial, said ‘It’s time for Canada to set their scientists free,’” Berman, author of This Crazy Time, said at the Healing Walk. Science, as a truly inventive field of human inquiry, would logically presuppose the very undoing of its concurrent technological manifestations.

“The natural environment is treated as if it consisted of separate parts to be exploited by different interest groups. The fragmented view is further extended to society which is split into different nations, races, religions and political groups,” physicist and international best-selling author Fritjof Capra wrote in The Tao of Physics.

"The belief that all these fragments – in ourselves, in our environment, and in our society – are really separate can be seen as the essential reason for the present series of social, ecological, and cultural crises. It has alienated us from nature and our fellow human beings. It has brought a grossly unjust distribution of natural resources creating economic and political disorder, an ever-rising wave of violence, both spontaneous and institutionalized, and an ugly, polluted environment in which life has often become physically and mentally unhealthy."

Life is without meaning, not because it is despairing, but because it requires no other meaning than itself. Life itself is significant. Life is self-renewing. Modern human life is more and more devoid of a connection to the sources of life, and so, the mind, and its encouraged symbolic outputs, estranges daily existence from the nature of life. Proactive language (e.g. solutions-oriented media), as with the most advanced scientific thinking, gives voice and agency to ways of life that are self-sufficient, yet still recognize the interdependent nature of life.

The First and Original Peoples of Turtle Island, Aboriginal Peoples of Canada, continue to share the fundamental philosophical similarities with the ecological consciousness of wise, ancient cultures from bygone eras and faraway lands. Understandings that had once triggered a revival of interest in the practical philosophies of interdependence and rootedness are not only springing from Western science itself, but are being voiced by the First Peoples of the Land with greater potency. “Science is important but only if it’s governed and held in check by wisdom, and that wisdom that people have been ignoring for hundreds of years on this continent is finally reasserting itself at exactly the moment when it is most needed,” Bill McKibben said to close his speech only moments before the Healing Walk began.

Bad news is good news. Spotlight triggers response, and, at the end of the day, people think as they please, or, more accurately, as is pleasing. Regardless of what it is called, Oil Sands, or Tar Sands, industry gets the lip service. “I don’t want to squander my energy entirely on being reactive, on being reactive to their craziness. Be clear on where we are going,” LaDuke stressed with grounded intensity. “It’s our choice upon which path to embark. One miikanan [path] is well worn but it’s scorched. The other path, they say, is not well worn but it’s green, and it’s our choice. It’s our choice. That’s what our people said about 800-900 years ago.” The ancient wisdom of the Anishinaabe prophecy for the time of the Seventh Fire shared by Winona LaDuke at the 4th Annual Tar Sands Healing Walk offers all a path, or miikana, to a future that is fresh and green, and very simply, to a future.

Beyond pro- and anti-, beyond reaction and action, there is a beginning; a place, from where all people would begin life renewed. That beginning is the elephant in the room; it is every last man, woman and child. In the name of Mother Earth, the Original Peoples along the Athabasca River, and every Healing Walker: All my relations.

This piece is featured in the current print edition of Dialogue Magazine (

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