Buddhist Priest Leads 1,300-Mile “Compassionate Earth Walk" from the Tar Sands of Alberta to Nebraska

Real Audio  RealAudio MP3  MP3

Posted Nov. 13, 2013

Interview with Shodo Spring, Zen Buddhist priest, conducted by Melinda Tuhus


From July to early October, Shodo Spring, a 64-year-old Zen Buddhist priest, who is a mother of two and grandmother of four, led a walk from the tar sands oil extraction region of Alberta, Canada to Nebraska, 1,300 miles along the proposed route of the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline project.

After being arrested in Washington, D.C. in August, 2011 during a protest against the pipeline that would transport dirty tar sands oil to Texas refineries for export abroad, Spring decided to walk the route to meet people on all sides of the controversy and to bring peace to the area. She says the central impulse for the “Compassionate Earth Walk,” was a response to climate change, which she believes is the most likely cause of the current droughts, floods, and extreme weather events the world has witnessed in recent years. Spring asserts that the situation will get much worse unless people collectively take drastic action. She made the entire journey, walking about half the miles, while a core of six to eight others walked in either Canada or the United States. Other participants joined the walk for shorter periods.

Growing opposition to the extraction of tar sands oil has been provoked by scientific research that finds the energy source produces far more greenhouse gasses that contribute to global warming than conventional production methods. President Obama is expected to make a decision on whether or not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline project sometime in 2014. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Shodo shortly after she finished the walk and returned to her home in Minnesota. She shared some reflections from her journey and summed up what she considers the walk’s impact.

SHODO SPRING: There was a rancher in Alberta who we met through a church, and we had dinner at his house, and we had a very lovely conversation about the whole thing, you know, climate change and what can you do and what can't you do, and everything. But he took us out to his ranch where he was keeping part of it as native prairie, and he talked about how he ran the cattle, and he knew exactly how long it was safe to leave them on the prairie, and then how long he had other fields, like alfalfa and the regular stuff, but he was protecting his prairie. So later on, we learned more about this, and every rancher we talked to we learned something from. Later on there was a rancher who, we didn't talk about his practices, but he actually drove a considerable distance to come and talk with us. I said I wanted the walkers to hear from him, because I had met him last year, and it's (the pipeline) coming across his land, and he refused to sign, and they took him to court, and he lost.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Can you say more about that? He refused to sign what?

SHODO SPRING: So, what happens is that TransCanada comes in, and they have a contract for an easement, and most people say, Oh, look, money! and they sign it. So you're getting some money and you're doing a good thing because it's getting energy for people, and it's needed. Some people have gotten together in groups and bargained for better easements is what they usually do, and then a very few people just refused to sign. And he said he wasn't against the pipeline in the first place, but they lied to him so much that they turned him against the pipeline. People keep saying lying and double-dealing, and refusing to answer questions, and high pressure tactics. He was referring the the Cowboy-Indian Alliance; he said it had put him in contact with so many different kinds of people that he never would have been involved with; he would have stayed with the people who were like him. And instead, he's become totally easy with people of all kinds.

BETWEEN THE LINES: And the Cowboy and Indian Alliance, that's white ranchers and indigenous folks who are all against the pipeline, is that right?

SHODO SPRING: Right, yeah. I mean, what a great title, right? And of course the great thing which we've observed and everybody's noticed is, Oh, look! the same people whose ancestors came and took the land away from the Indians now need help from the Indians to protect their land, which used to be the Indians' land, because treaty rights are major, major help.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Would you say that in general people in the U.S. and Canada have a different view about the pipeline?

SHODO SPRING: Not exactly. In Canada, we met a few people who were against the pipeline, but mostly not; most people were for it. Oh, but we met some farmers and ranchers who were kind of grumbly about it, because they can't get farm help anymore, because you can make $28 an hour right out of high school if you go to work for the oil and gas industry, and the farmer can't afford to pay $28 an hour. And so people...this one guy we camped at his place, he said, he could have gone with...I don't know if he meant sold his land or whatever, but he wouldn't do it, but it's really hard to do agriculture anymore, because the labor force is going where the money is. It seemed like till we got about half-way through South Dakota, most people were pro-pipeline. They weren't thinking about oil spills and they weren't thinking about climate change. We heard more of the religious thing there – God's in charge. Then, like southern South Dakota and all of Nebraska, the people we saw, it was all about pipelines and spills and the aquifer and they're ruining our land and they're violating our rights, and everything.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Shodo Spring, what did you set out to accomplish, and do you feel like you accomplished it?

SHODO SPRING: The single clear intention that we all had was to walk every foot of that way, and we took turns, so what walking every foot meant, the staff went every foot. And except for three miles where there was road construction and there was no option, we did that. So that we accomplished. Other things were, we did have a lot of positive encounters with people. We don't know what the effect of those encounters was. Certainly the people who were anti-pipeline frequently felt encouraged and inspired by our being there. The group that was on the walk, I think learned a lot. There were people who just kind of stumbled into it, and they learned a lot about politics and activism and native issues, and all the stuff that came up there. But the people who came more intentionally, they matured in being able to work in a group. People were speaking in front of groups – not often – but everybody made beautiful statements. And so I think in terms of building activists, we had a positive effect.

Find links to more information about the “Compassionate Earth Walk,” by visiting compassionateearthwalk.org.

Related Links: