ANTIGONISH: Creating and supporting a collective conversation to build relationships of peace and friendship, the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre hosted a discussion on March 12 speaking with local land and water defenders in Mi’kma’ki.
In support of the International Women’s Week theme of “Waves of Feminist Resistance: Marching through the Generations,” the three women panel gave first-hand experiences of their journey as land and water protectors.
Throughout the evening, Chief Andrea Paul of Pictou Landing First Nation, April Prosper of Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation and Grandmother Dorene Bernard, a Mi’kmaq Grassroots Grandmother, spoke on how to honour responsibilities to each other and the land.
Prosper, who is a First Nation support worker at Antigonish Education Centre, and the daughter of Kerry Prosper, said it was through her father she grew up with the respect for water – particularly around ceremonies and the spiritual law they follow.
“Clean water is a gift. Through my childhood I didn’t understand those things until I started learning about ceremony,” she said. “And making that sacrifice to pray for those who suffer every day of their lives.”
For Bernard, who is also a survivor of the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School, she suggested it really wasn’t until 2012 when Indian Brook lost their water that she began to take a water defenders stance.
While a mining company was digging a couple hundred feet away from their community’s well, which was 46-feet deep with beautiful spring water, it was drained dry and subsequently the treatment plant and water tower became affected with E.coli and bacteria after the well was shocked by putting surface water in.
“We were under a do not consume [advisory] for four months,” she said. “That woke me up.”
She highlighted how in We’koqma’q, the community was able to get rid of Petro Works, who wanted to frack alongside Lake Ainslie – the only fresh water lake in all of Cape Breton. And they’re currently still trying to halt Alton Gas in Sipekne’katik First Nation.
Chief Paul, who was born, raised and lived in Pictou Landing First Nation her whole life, indicated she grew up in a time where they already had the pollution from the local mill.
“Growing up, I’m not going to say I was a land defender of a water protector, because I wasn’t,” she said. “It was just something we lived with. It was a part of who we were – this pollution.”
When Paul came into politics and came into the role as Chief, she noticed the community didn’t have a relationship with the mill.
She expressed how in 2014, “a really great thing happened,” to push everything to the level of where it had to get to – a pipe broke.
“I heard about it through social media; I didn’t know where the pipe was so I had to get someone to take me,” Paul said. “When we found it, it was on Indian Cross Point, which is an Indian burial site.”
After an emergency meeting with her council, they quickly mobilized themselves and formed a blockade and were in formal negotiations with the provincial government for approximately seven days.
“We only had one ask; you need to stop pumping affluent into Boat Harbour,” Paul indicated. “I wasn’t really as active when I was growing up until that point, I just never knew where my place was.”
As an elected official, Paul explained when she sits at the table she doesn’t come as Andrea as it’s not about her – even though she’s had her own journey with what happens – she always carries the voices of everyone.
“I was able to take their words into those discussions, those high-level discussions that I had to have with government,” she said. “Because they don’t get that chance to be that voice, they don’t get that chance to tell their side of the story.”
Getting to the point she is today, Paul credits the work started in 1965 with the leadership and the people in her community guiding that work.
“When you’re in a room full of elders and you talk about ‘a’se’k’- what we called Boat Harbour – immediately they will speak in their language and go back in time,” Paul explained. “They will sit there and tell you all of these beautiful things about a’se’k.”
But when asking about Boat Harbour – everything changes – not only does their language shift; everything about them shifts.
“When they talk about a’se’k they talk about how beautiful it was, how rich it was in everything,” she said. “When I grew up I was told, ‘You don’t go there, it’s polluted, it’s dangerous,’ and for years I never went to Boat Harbour, even though it was less than a kilometer away. We just didn’t go.”