Driving from Ft. McMurray to the oil sands industrial sites is a bit like seeing hell just up ahead, and then going right into it. On the horizon you see the thick toxic clouds, the plumes rising from our industrial version of Dante’s Inferno. As you come upon it, it begins to envelope you, invades your nose and lungs, your eyes, your spirit. The trees make way for strip mining of earth’s surface and all that lives within it. Clouds of toxic dust rise from everywhere as the heavy trucks and machinery move about like giant insects, everything busy, in motion, tearing up, hauling away, burning, steaming, processing.
We’re visiting for a couple of days. Thousands and thousands of people live and work in this every day, some of them in giant barracks-like encampments right on these sites. The traffic flows on the highway constantly, incessantly.
There are also human beings living here long before this all began (along with millions of other life forms), and they and their descendents are still here – being poisoned, their lives toxified, many of those lives sold out to the industry because this means jobs and a much easier way of life (despite all that early death all around, along with drugs and alcohol and reckless use of quads, so many young lives lost to it all. Industrial culture mesmerizes, despite its many blood sacrifices offered up on the altars of its gods.).
Ft. McKay, community center for bands of Metis and First Nation peoples, is changing rapidly. Development – new roads and bridges, new houses, new bustling activity – is changing it. It is being subsumed into the oil tar sands world and the ancient ways of life of these communities are being destroyed. The industry is far from done. They have plans now to invade some of their most sacred land in the area around Moose Lake. It seems the tribal leadership has already made it a done deal, whether all the people want this or not.
Celina, whom Heather mentioned in her post, took us to another sacred site, a cliff high above the Red River which flows into the toxified Athabasca. We took long moments to reflect on what all of this is in the lives of these warm, hospitable, lovely people who are opening their homes to us, putting homemade soup and fried banik bread on the table for us.
How could we humans have become this pathological, this cut-off from our most basic humanity, that this kind of thing could continue in our times – not that different from the genocide we committed on the frontier to get what we wanted for our white selves.
Not that much different from what the ancient tribes of Israel had to do to occupy the Promised Land – kill everybody who was there before them.
Like it or not, this is not only in our industrial culture, it is also in our religious traditions, and we need to get honest with ourselves about that.
So I leave you this morning with this quote from an essay I read when I awoke this morning, “At the Edge of the Roof: The Evolutionary Crisis of the Human Spirit,” by John Stanley and David Loy in the book, Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth. It reminded me of what Celina said to us yesterday, about her concern for the younger generation, her grandchildren and those to come after, whose future is now in jeopardy, if in many cases not already destroyed.
A natural conviction held by every previous human generation is that our children are our future. How can this advanced globalized society sleepwalk into an unprecedented betrayal of inter-generational justice? We need to ask ourselves: in whose interest are we sacrificing the ancient contract with the future of our species? Why can’t we find the courage to face the facts, and throw off the dominion of the fossil fuel industry? That kind of authentic challenge would re-invigorate the human spirit.
Off soon for our second day in Ft. McKay…