A Walk to Heal, A Walk to Reimagine

A Walk to Heal, A Walk to Reimagine

Rucha Chitnis

“There are toxic places by the San Francisco Bay. We walk to understand what some frontline communities experience everyday living next to the oil refineries,” says Pennie Opal Plant of Yaqui, Choctaw and Cherokee ancestry, one of the organizers of the Refinery Corridor Healing Walks.

“We want to imagine our future beyond fossil fuels to have clean water, air, soil and healthy jobs,” she says. The Refinery Corridor Healing Walks are inspired by the long tradition of healing walks —such as the Tar Sands healings walks in Alberta that raise awareness on the impact of Canadian oil sands on First Nation communities. There are five refineries east of the San Francisco Bay Area. The healing walks hope to bring attention to the environmental and health risks posed by the refineries, including threats from derailment of crude by rail

In the past six years or so, crude by rail has increased by 4,000 percent across the United States. Local community members are concerned that crude by rail could start in the Valero refinery in Benicia, a historic town, which used to serve as California state capital. Two years ago, 2013, we witnessed an unprecedented number of crude spills from train derailments in North America, including one that killed 47 people in a town in Quebec. Because of this fatal explosion and others crude by rail is often referred to as bomb trains.

“Why healing walks? Because Mother Earth needs to heal. We continue to poison our waters with fracking. Where does this water go? Into our wells and streams,” says Wounded Knee DeOcampo, a Coastal Miwok Native elder with Sacred Sites Protection and Rights of Indigenous Tribes. The healing walk members have planned four walks each year for four years. The walks are led by Native American elders in prayer, followed by community members and environmental advocates in contemplation and dialogue. The walks begin with a water ceremony and song led by Native American elders, followed by a march along the refineries, neighborhoods, rail tracks and other toxic sites dotting the bay. In each of the walks, local community members share their hopes for healthy environment, jobs and transition to a just economy. The next walk is on June 20, which will traverse through Benicia to Rodeo – home to Conoco-Phillips refinery.

“Climate change is here, and nobody is going to save us. It’s up to us to transition to a safe energy future,” says Opal Plant. “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

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