‘Mother Earth has been crying out and nobody has been listening’
By Elizabeth McMillan, CBC News Posted: Oct 11, 2016 11:00 AM AT
Rosalie Labillois is taking a few days off from her studies at St. Thomas University to learn from elders this week.
The 19-year-old from Eel River Bar First Nation, N.B., is taking part in the Mi’kmaki Water Symposium in Millbrook First Nation, N.S. With the theme of “water brings unity,” it is centred on discussing water issues facing communities across the region.
“The water is so sacred. It’s not just a Native problem,” said Labillois. “Everybody has these stereotypes about Native people and our connection to the land. It’s true that we have a connection but we’re not just fighting for ourselves. We’re fighting for everybody else here. Water is life, right?”
Organizer Dorene Bernard says the hope is Indigenous and non-Indigenous people will share knowledge about protecting the land and water and return to their communities with strategies for how to continue that work.
“A lot of people in Nova Scotia don’t know about the struggles that people are having in our own province about the damage to the water and how it’s impacting people,” Bernard said.
She said it’s been important to make connections between issues, such as the dirty water crisis in Potlotek First Nation in Cape Breton to concerns about AltaGas’s plans to release salt brine into the Shubenacadie River.
‘We have a common goal’
In Mi’kmaq culture, it’s women’s role to protect the water, Bernard said.
“As we heal from the residential schools and all the impacts from residential schools that forbid these teachings, cultural ways … Part of my reconciliation is to educate non-native people about who we are. We want to work together. We have a common goal — to protect water, to protect life.”
Monday’s event, which was part of an Indigenous Day of Action, started at the AltaGas natural gas storage work site and continued on to the community centre in Millbrook for a feast.
Several young children played in the room as people snacked on bannock and stew, and chatted with elders.
‘Nobody has been listening’
Sadie Beaton brought her family from Halifax to celebrate the day.
“We’re lucky to have so many good things in our life but I really wanted to put my attention on water and also to be part of this community that’s doing so much to protect the water on behalf of all of us,” she said.
Bernard hopes this won’t be the first and only water symposium and that it will send a message to government and corporations that the Mi’kmaq won’t stand by if the land is abused.
“We’re at a crisis where these things are being ignored. Climate change is being ignored,” she said. “The water has been crying out for help. Mother Earth has been crying out and nobody has been listening.”