It’s not my first rodeo in Fort McMurray.
But it is the first time I have really BEEN here. Really and truly paid attention to what is happening all around, and spoken to the courageous people who are in the middle of it all.
We arrived last night in Ft McMurray. The place was buzzing. We landed here during the annual Oil Sands Trade Show, which only added to the sheer volume of shiny new trucks on the road. This place is all men and all money. Wait staff in the restaurant we chose last night were dressed like modern-day saloon girls. The huge mining operations just outside of town never sleep. There’s a hyper energy to this place, a sense of racing to some impending finish line. It all gives the whole thing the eerie feel of a modern day gold rush. Black gold.
This all makes me more fearful than hopeful, as the only gold rushes I’ve heard of through history didn’t end until the gold ran out. In spite of that, there are brave people raising their voices about the dangers and injustices we are inflicting in the name of the economy. I feel deeply grateful and honoured to have had an opportunity to meet with both Celina Harpe and Dr. John O’Connor today. They generously shared their stories and thoughts.
I have now returned to our Fort McMurray hotel and had a long, hot shower, something that Fort McKay residents are discouraged from doing in the tap water that has been shown to cause them rashes and skin lesions. As the day washes away, I am left with an image of mothers bathing their babies in bottled water, and the refrain of a Neil Young song in my head. In my mind, Neil Young plays ‘After the Goldrush’ which, incidentally, won’t be heard for a while on at least one of Fort McMurray’s local radio stations – this being their response to comments Young made about Ft McMurray and the oil sands earlier this week in Washington.