At the stroke of midnight on the eve of the fourth annual Tar Sands Healing Walk, a baby boy was born on a buffalo robe in a teepee during a thunderstorm at the Indian Beach camp site along Gregoire Lake near Anzac.
“A sacred child,” the newborn great-grandson of Fort McMurray elder Violet Clarke was proclaimed, and along with the rain that maintained its presence throughout the next two days, made the star of the event focused on purification, life and healing.
“What a beautiful way to start the walk, not just with a birth, but with the rain,” Eriel Deranger, one of the walk’s organizers, said Friday afternoon during the downpour.
“This rain is healing; it is purifying,” Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) elder Sue Deranger also reflected. “The tar sands are taking, and we need to give back. Our giving back is our sacrifice, to stand in the rain and walk.”
She said both the rain and the baby were blessings to remind people of hope and life to help them carry on.
“Thank you to the rain for healing us all,” she said.
The birth was seen as especially significant in light of the recent passing of one of the Healing Walk’s founders, Roland Woodward, a Métis elder from Fort McMurray and a member of Keepers of the Athabasca, to whom this year’s walk was dedicated.
Elder Nancy Scanie of the Cold Lake First Nation, who helped coach the birth, said the new baby was a blessing after the loss of Woodward.
“One of the most beautiful experiences I ever had was watching a new baby come into the room. He’s a replacement of Roland – a beautiful baby boy,” she said. “Roland is with us in spirit now.”