Hundreds of First Nations people from across North America gathered in Fort McMurray Saturday to walk in the fifth and final Healing Walk.
The symbolic 14-kilometre trek through the traditional hunting and gathering grounds wove past the Syncrude mine, past tailing ponds and heavy haul trucks while the smell of crude oil lingered in the air.
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“In Alberta, with the mining of the oilsands, it’s too much, too fast, too soon,” said Jesse Cardinal, the organizer of the event.
The Keepers of the Athabasca — an organization of First Nations, Métis, Inuit and environmental groups — started the walk in 2010.
From the beginning, the organizers said it was not a protest or a rally, but a ceremonial event led by elders praying for the healing of the land and the people affected by oilsands development.
“The original intention was to let the communities know that they were supported and to raise awareness on a local, national and international level,” Cardinal said.
Five years and many kilometres later, Cardinal says they have accomplished their goal and it is time to move on to other communities.
“The tar sands are expanding so rapidly and so expansively into other territories,” she said. “It's going into Cold Lake, Fort McMurray, Wabasca, Peace River… we feel like it’s time to move on to support other communities.”
The closing ceremonies for the Healing Walk will be held on Sunday.