Their names will be like my new litany of saints…Celina, Clara, Cindy, Miranda. The twin babies, too, Axel and Lawson. The way they welcomed these strangers (except for Maureen who is their friend) into their homes, around their tables, the joy in the food they prepared for us, the hamburger soup and fried banik, and the moose meat stew and baked banik (with raisins, a treat reserved for special guests), the open and trusting sharing, how they took us into their hearts, and how we did the same…
These are the things that matter, what changes everything.
It was hard enough to see the oil sands extraction monster at ground level, to breath the toxic air, to bear witness to the poisoned water (how one of the pilgrims went to Celina’s tap in a moment of forgetting where we were to get a drink of water, and how Celina cried out, “Don’t drink that water!” It is that terrifying to take one drink of that water from the river where they once bathed and fished and drank as children growing up in their Cree world), to see and smell and taste the horror being perpetrated by the oil industry.
It is something else, something more, something indescribably painful, to see it from the vantage point of a community ravaged by it, the old ways gone, the land and water ruined, the animals disappearing, the corruption of money seeping into the politics of the Band.
And to see it from the personal grief stories – of deaths in the family, cancers and accidents. Also to see it from the indomitable strength of the spirits of these women, two of them, Celina and Clara, elders of the band.
It is indescribably painful to bear witness to the destruction of this precious human community and its ways because of greed and power and this fierce and unrelenting addiction to the oil-based industrial world in which we all live and participate.
There is no easy way to change this – but it must be changed.
It’s not as if I am surprised by anything I have seen. I knew what I was getting into when I committed to this pilgrimage a year and a half ago. It’s that the actual bearing witness takes this from the head to the heart. And if you open to the people living in the midst of it – well, in my case anyway, I’m not sure I ever want to recover from this broken heart. Rather, I want to use this energy of sorrow and love and these bonds we made across barriers of culture, history, and deep distrust between our peoples (for such very good reasons) to break open more and to find there the inspiration, the font, from which to create my own life anew, with a deeper devotion to this incredible planet, all the sentient and non-sentient beings who are my community, a commitment to the work of carving out, with others, a path to the new human community, the new post-carbon community, the one that can bring the human back into the “real” world within which we live and move and have our being.
Off this morning to Edmonton, leaving behind the oil sands mega-disaster. In my heart, this litany – Celina, Clara, Cindy, Miranda, and then Axel and Lawson who are the future.