FIRST REFLECTIONS UPON RETURN FROM ATHABASCA

We are happy to report that The Road to Athabasca has returned from our pilgrimage following the Trans Mountain oil pipeline to the tar sands. After three weeks of cycling, hearing the stories of people who live along the pipeline, and sharing art and music, our hearts are full of gratitude to everyone that has supported this adventure and journalism project. We are eager to share our adventures with you and with the world.

But where to begin?! An 1100-mile journey simply can’t be summed up in an single post, so we thought we would give you a few of our highlights, and tell you a bit about how we plan to continue to tell this story for some time to come …

… On our second day of biking, we crossed the border into Canada. There we were joined by Brian Deheer, a member of Keepers of the Athabasca, an alliance of Native and non-native Canadians committed to the safekeeping of the Athabasca River. Biking through the wild countryside of British Columbia, we followed the yellow and white tabs sticking out of the ground that indicate where the Trans Mountain pipeline lies—just a few feet underground—carrying a chemical-petroleum-water slurry, “diluted bitumen (or dilbit),” from the tar sands to our backyard in Anacortes, WA.

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In Valemount, British Columbia we were mesmerized by salmon spawning in Swift Creek, and met botanist and environmental activist Barbara Zimmer. She gave us a tour of the fragile lichen and sand dune ecosystem in Jackman Flats Provincial Park, one of the 10 parks being considered to have its boundaries changed to accommodate the twinning of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline.

In Jasper, Alberta following a stunning ride through the Canadian Rockies, we sat down with Jill Seaton of the Jasper Environmental Society to discuss her work to protect Jasper National Park from expanding commercial development that limits free community access to some of the most pristine wilderness in Canada, and the #FightForOurParks campaign. Read the article about us that appeared in the Fitzhugh, Jasper’s newspaper.

On our way out of town, we had the opportunity to visit the Athabasca Glacier. From this place—the headwaters of the Athabasca River—the melted ice ultimately flows to the lake where the members of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation are no longer able to fish or drink the water due to contamination.

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We set an intention to listen and witness, to suspend judgement, and to engage through art. Because of this, we were able to have some powerful and moving conversations with people who work in the oil industry in Alberta. One pipeline worker we met near Edmonton works on one of the many pipelines that slice across Alberta carrying natural gas, and dilbit. But soon, he says, he’ll have saved enough money to fulfill his dream of starting his own organic farm, and will be spending his time pulling carrots, not digging pipelines. His complex relationship with the booming oil industry of Alberta is far from the one-tone, stoic narrative of “environment or jobs” that the media puts forth.

Our 1100-mile ride culminated in a Healing Gathering for the Land and Water, hosted by the Fort McMurray First Nation. Held at a home on the edge of pristine Willow Lake, just miles from the Nexen diluted bitumen spill (Alberta’s largest spill in 40 years), the gathering’s pinnacle event was a healing walk around the caustic tailings ponds. Here members of many different First Nations and allies witness the environmental devastation and pray for the health and protection of clean water and land. Watch a short video news report from Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN).

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While we set out to follow the man-made energy pipeline infrastructure of the Trans Mountain pipeline, we came to realize we were engaging far more deeply and intimately with the land, water, air, people, and wildlife who rely on them for life.

Please stay tuned. We’re planning public presentations in Seattle and on Whidbey Island, an art show with multi-media, articles, photo essays, and video content to be released as we prepare for a big year in 2016.

In the meantime, you can see more photos and stories from our journey on Instagram (@roadtoathabasca) and keep up with us on Facebook (tarsandsride) You can also read other articles about us in the news here. 

How can I help? If you know of anyone who may be interested in The Road to Athabasca, please invite them to “sign up for email updates on our website (www.tarsandsride.org).

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