"Here," said a Heiltsuk friend as we began the walk, "put this in your pocket, it will help protect you." She handed me a piece of dried Devil's club bark, medicine from the B.C. coastal rainforest to carry with me as we walked by Alberta's tar sands facilities. Strong medicine was definitely in order as my lungs hurt, heart ached, and eyes welled up with tears with all that I witnessed.
Some fifteen years ago, at a Peace Gathering, an elder shared a prophecy. A baby boy would be born in a teepee on a buffalo robe, his birth signalling that now is the time to act. Last Thursday, on the eve of the 4th Annual Healing Walk in Fort McMurray, Alberta, a young woman went into labour. Her contractions came closer together. Grandmothers and mothers gathered to pray. And, at the stroke of midnight, inside a teepee, a healthy boy was born on a buffalo robe.
"We don't know what the hell is going on under the ground". That's what Crystal Lameman, a member of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation told me this morning. On June 27, an oil spill occurred at Canadian Natural Resources Limited's Primrose operations. The spill happened on the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range, located in a region The Royal Canadian Airforce calls "the inhospitable wilds of northern Alberta and Saskatchewan." This 'inhospitable' region happens to be in her community's traditional hunting territory where her family traditionally hunted and trapped and where her elders are buried.
What the hell indeed is going on in Fort McMurray, you might ask. How did I get to spend time talking to Malcolm Gladwell, and Bill Cosby? What is bringing these people so far north? Well, what is bringing them is the Northern Insights speaker series from the Fort McMurray Public Library - but I think what is really drawing them in is the narrative of this community.
Fact is, Alberta's red-ink budgets have much more to do with real per-capita program spending being near historic highs. This also explains why so many Albertans "hiss" at the notion of a sales tax. To understand why the spending side of the government ledger deserves more attention, consider some statistics about Alberta's program spending, ones that take into account Alberta's population growth and inflation rate.
The evidence keeps coming in: Ottawa's all-oil economic strategy is seriously flawed. According to a report released last week, we could be headed for another financial crisis as a result of over-valued energy stocks that are giving rise to a growing "carbon bubble." This means that we should be breaking with our economic reliance on oil, rather than increasing it.
In my life as a community blogger I occasionally get emails and messages from those curious about where I live. Sometimes they come from those who have been to northern Alberta, and sometimes they come from people from countries far away, wondering if this is the place they have been looking for to change their fortunes.