"If the development of the Tar Sands has one good thing about it, it might be that it wakes us up.
Business as usual is over. We've run out of time. It is the tipping point. It's telling us that everything about fossil fuel economies have changed, in terms of cost, in terms of scale, in terms of environmental footprint. Everything has changed. Now, if as a society we can respond to that and say, you know what, we need to get off this within 30 years, then that would be great. If we don't respond to it, then as a society we will likely collapse, because you can not sustain a civilization on a resource as dirty as bitumen." Andrew Nikiforuk, multi-award winning Canadian journalist, and author of Tar Sands, in the documentary Tipping Point: The End of Oil
Highway 63 to the Athabasca Tar Sands, past cords of balsam poplar, I am reminded of the old adage from the Second World War. "Bodies stacked like cords of wood." The puncturing wind howls and slams with a dry heave over the windshield as sixteen wheels burn past, loaded with split trunks. To my right, a comrade of voice and indigenous rights advocate, Gregor MacLennan tells me the green corridor of lush grassy, treelines are a mere trick for the eye. Behind them lies the gargantuan tragedy that could only be wrought by the world's largest industrial project. Gregor had visited the Tar Sands with the Achuar people of Peru, who had recently fended of Calgary-based oil company Talisman from drilling on their territory in the Western Amazon rainforest. Not long ago, as a student in Iquitos, the largest city in the Western Amazon, multiple truckloads of logged jungle timber floating along the Amazon basin became a common sight for me. First impressions on bearing witness to the immense destruction and its repercussions for local communities along the Athabasca river, the Achuar, Gregor said, were overcome with sadness, and lack of hope from the locals.
Yet, on July 6, as a contingency of solidarity groups, activists, environmentalists, scientists, and First Nations leadership, including Winona LaDuke, Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, walked the 4th Annual Tar Sands Healing Walk, there was certainly no shortage of hope. Beyond hope, however, there was the sheer presence of strength on that full day of walking to bear witness, pray and heal in solidarity. The Healing Walk encircled Tar Sands development, pausing for a moment of silence at each of the Four Directions to heal Mother Earth. Together with elders, traditional drummers from the Dene Nation led all who followed in support. At the final direction along the path, having reached the homestretch, I asked one of the lead drummers for an extra drum, as I had forgotten mine, and wished to accompany the rhythm. "We don't have any others, it's personal. We each cut our own," he said. As they proudly held their snare-tightened skin-headed drums.
In that moment, I was struck by a revelation. Jokingly, the drummers made affable conversation, to lighten the moment through friendship and good spirits, and I was struck by each of their genuinely unique relationships to their respective drums. It was as if the making and playing of one's drum represented the circular holism of life, and the central role that creativity plays in that sustenance, that deep nourishment of living in the human experience. As they played on, not with the sophisticated manner of virtuosic world-class music, but with the honest grit and sincere genuflection of direct connection to the spirit of creativity: the heart. And the heartbeat rhythms moved me through the pain and humbling endurance of the Healing Walk. Each step a strike of the skin, a beat of the drum, the rhythm of forward movement, of positivity, of light and love.
The number 4 had especial significance to my experience at the 4th Annual Healing Walk. Not only is the number 4 a deeply meaningful symbol to Aboriginal culture, but also to my own ancestral culture. The night before the Healing Walk, the two converged in a momentous expression of joy and harmony. On Turtle Island, 4 represents the directions, seasons, and in the Medicine Wheel of Four Colours (Red, White, Black, Yellow) and Four Lives (Mental, Spiritual, Emotional, Physical).
In my musical life, deeply bound by Mediterranean musical culture, I have given to the Sufi spiritual practice of seeing the numerical symbol 4 as sacred. More closely allied to my blood, in Kabbalah or Jewish mysticism, the wisdom tradition of the Four Worlds, symbolizes the spiritual realms. And so, I dedicate 4 hours of every day to meditation through music, which is a special revelation of Sufism and other world spiritualities.
At Indian Beach campground, around the sacred fire, I drummed on a 14' frame drum with Dene Nation drummers local to Fort McMurray, who inspired all present to grace the Earth with a ceremonial round dance. Our frame drums, created of the spiritual womb of Turtle Island and the Mediterranean, danced in unprecedented harmony under the inspiring rush of Dene song. Their welcoming me was a moment of incredible significance as I sunk my mind deep into the heartbeat of Mother Earth, to emerge, offering the light step of a dance, the voice of a song, and the resonance of a drum.
So, as with SoJourn(al), the drum represents a spiritual and personal expression, where we all move and feel necessary to ourselves and the world, whether on a stage, in a publication, or through a drum, we live our lives with enduring harmony and perennial meaning. The traditional drumming is in no way redolent of economic ambition, but of an honouring for the ancestral and allied community that warms us and embodies our truth. The drum is the inner life, the spiritual life, the way to sacred holism, to health and healing. To beat the drum is to impress upon one's spirit the unshakable continuity of the richness that the inner life provides, as to forego the unwelcome trespasses of soulless possessiveness, greedy overconsumption and mindless ignorance. So, in beating the drum we are humbled as we are fulfilled. I could not imagine a more fitting leadership to the 4th Annual Tar Sands Healing Walk, than the unwavering spirit of the Dene drummers.
See Previous Posts on the Alberta Tar Sands:
- The Value of People: Voices of Struggle and Creation in Western Canada
- Responding to the Critical Condition of Earth
|water is sacred|
|the whole world is with us|
|the fourth direction|
|gathering firewood for community|
|remember Indian Beach|
|awake at first light|
|living in unity|
|on the land|
|remnants of Fort McMurray|
|onward to the end of the tunnel|
|touch the cleansing water|
|women lead from the beginning|
|caribou-hide singers with Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus|
|the sacred circle of the round dance|
|Mohawk and Algonquin Confederacy youth dance in pride|
|to the pipe ceremony to begin the healing|
|suspicion lurks amid catastrophe|
|allies in solidarity wear Healing Walk t-shirts|
|Dene Nation youth represents with Eriel Deranger and Chief Allan Adam|
|Chief Bill Erasmus smudges for all near Tantoo Cardinal|
|Cleo Reese speaks to media prior to Healing Walk|
|Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus opens Walk|
|start the Healing|
|active media set off by way of Fort McMurray|
|and the smoking gun|
|where the treeline ends|
|warnings echo the birds away from deathly toxic waters|
|wavering dispersal of fear and anxiety|
|straight and narrow solidarity as a movement of one|
|Bill McKibben interviewed at Buffalo viewpoint|
|youth of the Mohawk and Algonquin Confederacy show pride|
|seize the day and slow industrial traffic!|
|as one we are the strength of many|
|exiles march through babylon|
|never let your flag below our sight|
|going the wrong way|
|see Earth as one of one mind|
|stronger than anything on our path|
|hold up the flag of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation|
|Winona LaDuke meets Brigette DePape|
|left behind for dead|
|self-portrait at Tar Sands|
|praying to the first of the Four Directions|
|clear-cut deforested desertification in the boreal forests|
|the Algonquin Confederacy is from the ground|
|protect your mind in the unholy land of destructive ignorance|
|human death sanctifies the wounded earth|
|sign reads, "reclamation area" at the world's largest industrial project|
|carrier of the Medicine Wheel walks on Turtle Island|
|youth drummers inspire all to step to the sacred heartbeat of our Mother|
|Dene elder represents his Nation|
|dwarfed under acid skies|
|raise a new flag in the name of Aboriginal justice|
|Aboriginal youth bear witness|
|we shall overcome|
|under darkening skies we march ahead|
|walk the land and see for your self|
|the largest industrial project on Earth spins out of control|
|life emerges still from the deepest atrocity|
|forward this image so all may see and bear witness|
|violence begets violence and madness fuels madness|
|look and look again and meditate on your newfound awareness|
|pipe dreams of the Old World|
|we see so clearly yet they are blinded by greenhouse emissions|
|walk across the devastated earth with hallowed footsteps|
|the atrocious path of denial shows its ugly face|
|the black soil of unreason and hypocrisy|
|workers' barracks of the neo-fascist petro-state|
|we the people seek freedom and independence anew|
|shame on the greedy and lifeless work of ignorance|
|shame on Canada from the neo-colonial Anglo-dominated west|
|the road to hell and the largest dam in the world|
|outside the Syncrude Tailings Dam|
|an unsavoury welcome from the largest single source producer in Canada|
|return to creation, to the beginning, to the drum|
|inadvertent signs remind us always to continue our work|
|back in Calgary the sacred is locked behind urbanity|
|and the fortune of a local neighbourhood walk|
inspired by the experience of living through a flood, while during a week of taking refuge in the residences of close friends, I committed my mind to an expression to creatively express the emotional flood known only by its victims. while the floods of southern alberta were nowhere near as devastating with such human costs as those concurrently in India, still there is a communal trauma, a proven post-traumatic stress that visits all victims of flooding. this is the result of immature development on a 100-year floodplain, where commercial zeal trumps human life, and we become aware of being entirely objectified as city-dwellers within an intensively privatized, economic existence. our lives are bought and sold, and Mother Earth reminds us that whether we like it or not, we always return to her.
The wise ones say that we can never know where we are going if we do not know where we are from. We are from our Mother Earth, and it is back to her where we will go. As ever her children, throughout our lives, we consume from her sources of life, the milk of water, and if we are unaware and ignore the offering of sacred space that recognizes her movement and presence, then we are inevitably reminded that we are ever at her mercy. where I live, the city of Calgary, one of the most significant commercial centres of the global big oil industry was particularly impacted by flooding this summer solstice. if we can hear them, Ma Earth sends us very direct, timely and pertinent messages, namely in this case a message to the tune of, "slow down!" as there was flooding soon before in Fort McMurray, home of the dreaded Tar Sands, and as i write this, flooding in the Petro-State capital of Canada, Toronto. Ma Earth is quite articulate this summer.
This five poem chapbook, Understanding our MEANING, is the second complementary work from the district.Colombia collection. Beginning with a foray into the philosophic Taoist way of compassion that enunciates our living with the giving strength and deep humbling of fluid harmony in improvised music, the poems then take a broad step into the humanities of reason and the struggle for justice in the age of outrageous cultural consumption and environmental ignorance.
We Understand our MEANING when we know our place in the struggle for human freedom against the institutions that would likely allow human life to be bought and sold as the despicable days of slavery, masked by the post-colonial economic privatizations and revealed by the resurgence of decolonization among the First Peoples of Turtle Island. Finally, Morning Dew, the last poem, is revisited through an experimental narrative sounding in the album, Evocations:district.Colombia, where an experience as a temporary climate change refugee embodies the contemporary significance of the common struggle to be human on planet Earth today.