Multi-faith Partners Unite for Tar-Sands Healing Walk

by Terry Dance-Bennink

I came back a changed woman after my river pilgrimage to the tar-sands last September, determined to take action.

I shared my story at my local church, Esquimalt United, last October and to my delight, our minister, Leanne Benoit, suggested we hold a solidarity healing walk this June in Victoria, at the same time as the annual walk in Fort McMurray, sponsored by First Nations and the Keepers of the Athabasca. 

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 initiated the event and now we have more than 15 representatives from many faith traditions involved.

It will be a spiritual walk, not a protest march, on Saturday, June 28 from 1 – 4 pm through downtown Victoria on the holiday weekend. We’ll lift up the healing of the tar-sands through ritual, prayer and reflection.

We come together in the spirit of the civil rights movement and Mandela’s vision of reconciliation through truth-speaking.  We’re anchored in justice and compassion.

Our grass roots team represents many 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 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.

Despite our faith differences, we all get along!  We tease each other, laugh a lot and have fun. 

What makes this walk different from others is the fact we’re reaching out directly to our faith communities.  Posters and emails are not enough.  Team members are speaking to church members at local services, explaining the purpose and urgency of this act of solidarity.  We’re building awareness as well as taking action.

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.

It’s not been easy, as some church members balk at opposing the tar-sands expansion due to personal investments and/or jobs, but we hold up the example of our founders to build courage.

Dogwood member and artist, Diane White, has created a beautiful banner and matching signs honoring the four elements – water, air, fire, and earth. As we stop for various rituals, we’ll mourn the harm we humans have caused but celebrate the healing power of each element.

“We are faithful people eager for a new relationship with the earth and focusing our efforts on the healing of the tar-sands, Canada’s fastest growing source of heat-trapping greenhouse gas,” our brochure reads.

We also acknowledge that rapid tar sands development has had a devastating impact on First Nations and undermined their right to clean air, clean water, and infringed on their indigenous rights protected by the Canadian Constitution.

At our closing ceremony, we’ll take up a collection for RAVEN, the fundraising arm for many First Nations legal challenges.  Apologies are not enough.

Why our partners support this walk

“The organizers of this healing walk are all spiritual warriors – people who refuse to accept the status quo and know that there is another way of living on this beautiful planet…” Susan Draper, Kairos

“My husband Tom travelled to Fort Mac and Fort Chipewyan like Terry did and showed me pictures and told me stories of mutating fish, air that stings your lungs and water you can’t drink, people dying of cancer. It’s like a war zone…I feel my heart and spirit need to mourn, honour the suffering, pray for healing for the waters, the people, the forest.”  Ana Simeon, co-chair of Sierra Victoria local group.

“The Sisters of St. Ann take seriously the call for reconciliation and healing in our relationship with First Nations people. We feel privileged to participate in this multi-faith solidarity walk and share in the reflections and public witness to healing and reconciliation among people and with our Earth.”  Sheila Moss, Sister of St. Ann.

“My mom was present at some of the early Anglican hearings into residential school survivors in the 1990s…the stories she heard shook her up and shook us all up. But the Anglican church needed shaking up on that issue. I’m glad we’ve started to walk in a new direction as Anglicans with First Nations neighbours, our brothers and sisters. I see this healing walk as one small sign of that new path for us. When you apologize for a wrong that deep, you have to walk a long walk of apology afterwards – to make amends and make sure new wrongs don’t follow on old ones.”  Jamie Lawson, Ph.D., Anglican church member.

“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 Mousseau, Zen Buddhist.

“I became involved in the tarsands healing walk after hearing Terry Dance-Bennink speak about the negative health impact of the tarsands on the surrounding indigenous communities. 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?’  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 and/or living in poverty.” Leanne Benoit, minister, Esquimalt United Church.

“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.”  Elaine Hooper, United church and Kairos member.

Sat., June 28, 1 – 4pm, 2014
Gather at water’s edge, Delta Victoria hotel
Closing ceremony, 3:30 pm, First Met United

In addition to her involvement in the healing walk, Terry Dance-Bennink is a volunteer Dogwood regional organizer responsible for the southwestern tip of Vancouver Island. She’s also a retired vice-president academic of an Ontario college and a breast cancer survivor and volunteer.

Her team in Esquimalt/Royal Roads has 50 active volunteers on board and 4,851 people signed up in support of the No Tankers Citizens’ Initiative (89% of target). The Juan de Fuca riding has 2,876 supporters (46% of target) and Victoria Beacon Hill has hit the jackpot with 9,758 supporters exceeding their target by 185%!

Posted by Terry Dance-Bennink Thursday May 29, 2014 16:09

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