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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 4/29/19

The Last Battle

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THE BEAVER LAKE CREE NATION, Treaty No. 6 Area, Canada -- I am driving down a rutted dirt road with Eric Lameman, a member of the Cree nation.

"Over there," he says, pointing out where he was born in a tent 61 years ago.

We stop the car and look toward a wooded grove.

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"That's the mass grave," he says softly, indicating a clearing where dozens of Cree who died in a smallpox epidemic over a century ago are buried.

The Cree have been under relentless assault since the arrival of the European colonialists in the 1500s. Now the 500 inhabitants of the Cree reserve, where many live in small, boxy prefabricated houses, are victims of a new iteration of colonial exploitation, one centered on the extraction of oil from the vast Alberta tar sands. This atrocity presages the destruction of the ecosystem on which they depend for life. If the Cree do not stop the exploiters this time, they, along the exploiters, will die.

The reserve is surrounded by the tar sands, one of the largest concentrations of crude oil in the world. The sands produce 98% of Canada's oil and are the United States' largest source of imported oil. This oil, among the dirtiest fossil fuels on earth, is a leading cause of atmospheric pollution, releasing massive amounts of carbon dioxide. The production and consumption of one barrel of tar sands crude oil release 17% more carbon dioxide than production and consumption of a standard barrel of oil.

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Tar sands oil is a thick, mucky, clay-like substance that is infused with a hydrocarbon called bitumen. The oil around Beaver Lake is extracted by a process known as steam-assisted gravity drainage, which occurs under the earth and is similar to fracking. Farther north, extraction is done by strip-mining the remote boreal forest of Alberta, 2 million acres of which have already been destroyed. The destruction of vast forests, sold to timber companies, and the scraping away of the topsoil have left behind poisoned wastelands.

This industrial operation, perhaps the largest such project in the world, is rapidly accelerating the release of the carbon emissions that will, if left unchecked, soon render the planet uninhabitable for humans. The oil is transported thousands of miles to refineries as far away as Houston through pipelines and in tractor-trailer trucks or railroad cars. More than a hundred climate scientists have called for a moratorium on the extraction of tar sands oil. Former NASA scientist James Hansen has warned that if the tar sands oil is fully exploited, it will be "game over for the planet." He has also called for the CEOs of fossil fuel companies to be tried for high crimes against humanity.

It is hard, until you come here, to grasp the scale of the tar sands exploitation. Surrounding Beaver Lake are well over 35,000 oil and natural gas wells and thousands of miles of pipelines, access roads and seismic lines. (The region also contains the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range, which has appropriated huge tracts of traditional territory from the native inhabitants to test weapons.) Giant processing plants, along with gargantuan extraction machines, including bucket wheelers that are over half a mile long and draglines that are several stories high, ravage hundreds of thousands of acres. These stygian centers of death belch sulfurous fumes, nonstop, and send fiery flares into the murky sky. The air has a metallic taste. Outside the processing centers, there are vast toxic lakes known as tailings ponds, filled with billions of gallons of water and chemicals related to the oil extraction, including mercury and other heavy metals, carcinogenic hydrocarbons, arsenic and strychnine. The sludge from the tailings ponds is leaching into the Athabasca River, which flows into the Mackenzie, the largest river system in Canada. Nothing here, by the end, will support life. The migrating birds that alight at the tailings ponds die in huge numbers. So many birds have been killed that the Canadian government has ordered extraction companies to use noise cannons at some of the sites to scare away arriving flocks. Around these hellish lakes, there is a steady boom-boom-boom from the explosive devices.

The water in much of northern Alberta is no longer safe for human consumption. Drinking water has to be trucked in for the Beaver Lake reserve.

Streams of buses ferry workers, almost all of them men, up and down the roads, night and day. Tens of thousands from across Canada have come to work in the tar sands operations. Many live in Fort McMurray, about 180 miles from Beaver Lake, and work punishing 12-hour shifts for three weeks at a time before having a week off.

The Cree, the Dene and other tribes that live amid the environmental carnage and whose ancestral lands have been appropriated by the government to extract the tar sands oil suffer astronomical rates of respiratory and other illnesses. Cancer rates are 30% higher than in the rest of Alberta, according to the Alberta Cancer Board, which was disbanded soon after releasing this information in 2008.

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When he was a child, Eric Lameman was taken from his parents by the government, a common practice a few decades ago, and sent to an Indian boarding school where beatings were routine, speaking Cree or any of the other indigenous languages was forbidden and native religious and cultural practices were outlawed. He says the forced severance from his family and his community, along with the banning of his traditions, was psychologically devastating. He remembers his father and other Cree elders on the reserve performing religious rituals in secret. He would sneak to the woods to watch them as, risking arrest, they clung to their beliefs and spiritual practices.

Lameman defied the efforts to wipe out his identity and his culture, which he nurtured in spite of the attempts to eradicate them. He remained a Cree. And he says it is only his Cree roots that keep him whole and make it possible for him to endure. He suffered extreme poverty. He also had periods of addiction and even episodes of violence. It is hard to avoid personal disintegration when the dominant culture seeks to eradicate your being. Canada's indigenous people represent 4 percent of the population, but they make up more than a quarter of the inmates in the nation's federal prisons. Lameman's wife left him and their young children. She died from alcoholism on the streets of Calgary. He worked as a heavy machine operator in the tar sands. He quit when he realized the land he was despoiling would never recover and he began to get sick. He survives now on welfare.

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Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.

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Charles Homer

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Here is an article showing what the oil sands mining operations look like in Northern Alberta, the source area for synthetic crude oil that will be transported by Keystone:

click here

Obviously, ramping up production will have a significant impact on the environment in Northern Alberta.

Submitted on Monday, Apr 29, 2019 at 1:23:17 PM

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Reason: (Totally Irrelevant) I respectfully object to your comment as being off the topic. You are diverting the conversation away from the topic of the destruction of the environments and human rights violations of indigenous people in general, and by Canadian mining companies in particular. 99.999% of the article has nothing to do with "carbon dioxide".

The only point of my comment is to respectfully render a scientifically sourced reference that Carbon Dioxide is not a pollutant and is negligible to global warming. tu.be/U-9UlF8hkhs We should put our research and mitigation resources instead into clean air and clean water science, on an encompassing solar system wide and galactic-level research, not carbon taxation driven by politicized false atmospheric science. There is far more going on that we need to first understand.

Submitted on Monday, Apr 29, 2019 at 2:53:21 PM

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b. sadie bailey

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Last I looked, this article is not about a carbon tax. It's about sands oil in Alberta and the monstrous pipeline system it feeds - and what this is - one example of of an entire history of colonization and land rape at its worst. This is about what this is doing to First Nations people, their lands, and the entire earth. Have you not looked at pictures of Alberta's ecological disgrace? - it looks post-apocalyptic. Did you ever visit Alberta before the boreal forests were destroyed, before poisoned tailings ponds fouled once pristine rivers and lakes? Because I have. At least look at the LINK provided and watch the video excerpt from Petropolis - the visuals are undeniable.

I noticed that your bio says you're a realtor. I'll bet you can't sell real estate around something like this humongous filthy gaping wound in the earth; and you would not WANT to if it happened in your area. You say it yourself that your comment is only to make a point. But what is the point, as pertains to what Chris Hedges is reporting? Please read or re-read the article to know what it's about; and maybe try commenting on that.

Submitted on Tuesday, Apr 30, 2019 at 2:36:56 AM

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Sadie, I read your bio and was really moved by it. So many other people who visit this site are old and poor too, yet they care so much for others, future generations and the environment.

Submitted on Tuesday, Apr 30, 2019 at 11:16:39 AM

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When we in the USA think about our neighbor to the north, Canada, we often think of them being polite, benevolent and sending forth UN "peacekeepers" to world trouble spots. That picture is grossly inaccurate.

Canada has always been an enthusiastic junior partner in imperialism and colonialism. First as an outpost for the British Empire, and after WW2 for the US Empire.

This article is just a tiny introduction to the destruction to the environment and human rights violations of Canada against the poor and indigenous people all over North, Central and South America.

Yevs Engler, a Canadian, has written extensively on the shameful history of Canadian imperialism. A example of his books is "The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy".

Canada has always been there as a faithful lapdog of US crimes, including genocide of First Nations (i.e. Native American), Vietnam, Iraq and even Cuba.

Submitted on Monday, Apr 29, 2019 at 10:50:19 PM

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P.S. I should have mentioned Venezuela. Canada is fronting the ad hoc Lima Group and US efforts to overthrow the elected government of Nicolas Maduro. Canada's deep state of mining companies want to do to Venezuela, which is rich in gold and other minerals, what they have done throughout Latin America.

Canada has a shameful history of raping Latin American countries, poisoning their air and water, and driving indigenous people off of their historic land. Canada uses corrupt governments and private militias to commit human rights violations, including murdering activists. Just as Canadian mining companies continue to rape and rob Canadian First Nations for tar sands and pipelines.

The XL Pipeline is Canada's attempt to ship their dirty oil to the Koch Brother's refinery in Texas.

Please see my article Hands Off Venezuela, US and Canada Go Home for more background and ongoing Canadian imperialism. And read Yves Engler's books. He opened my eyes.

Submitted on Tuesday, Apr 30, 2019 at 11:12:48 AM

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