On the evening of Feb. 24, a humble but enthusiastic crowd of around 100 people gathered in the Champlain Great Hall to attend the Mi’kmaq Warriors speaking tour.
The tour was launched to raise awareness about the warriors’ struggle as they rose up against fracking and pollution of water sources.
Many of them have been incarcerated and been subjected to institutionalized abuse.
Trent University Native Association (TUNA) joined hands with Sustainable Trent to bring the tour to Peterborough.
The evening began with a hearty, wholesome meal provided by Mama Bear’s Kitchen, followed by an opening prayer to the Creator, accompanied by a welcoming song.
Thereafter, a charming, humorous woman took the stage.
With clear conviction and enthusiasm, Suzanne Patles regaled the audience with tales of her experience as a speaking warrior and the origin of her career as a resister.
Patles comes from a family that refuses to accept the status quo. Her grandmother refused to be forced into a residential school and when her family supported her in her stance, “resistance was normalized in [her] life.”
The gene was ignited in Patles when South Western Energy (SWN) attempted to begin natural gas exploration in the Mi’kmaq area’s shale formations.
She stresses that although many people believe that the fight is against fracking, they really stood against the exploration of their land. There was no reason to allow the exploration if they would not allow the mining. Although their acts of civil disobedience were non-violent, many of them were incarcerated.
Patles described the situation as oppression on multiple layers. Racial prejudices are applied to land distribution, the justice system and the environment.
“When there is an indigenous struggle in this country, people will be criminalized to justify the system,” Patles commented.
The struggle is not only against the associated environmental degradation, but also against the system that continues to dehumanize Natives and deprive them of their culture.
Although the issues may affect the population as a whole, most people continue to sit on the sidelines. Patles passionately urged the audience to let go of the “monetary bullshit” that is holding us back and to get involved.
In order to turn this theory into action, she suggests we focus on what we are good at and what entertains us and use it as a vehicle for change. Throughout history, cultural revolutions have been great drivers of systemic evolution, so, in this respect, she may be right. However, motivation is needed to let go of the financial strings that hold us back from taking a stand.
She spoke of the pollution of the formerly pristine waters in Mi’kmaq as one of the moments that fuelled her desire for change, “My mouth tasted like plastic and I could not breathe. Think this: this is coming to a city near you.”
Patles’s prophecy of eminent doom was frightening but it was the moving testimony of Coady Jipol that spoke to the instinctive fears of most people. He spoke candidly of the institutional oppression that drove him to drug addiction and gambling, and many of his friends to suicide. The social conditions left him and many like him spending a large chunk of their lives spinning through the revolving doors of rehab.
Residential schools were created to rob Native children of their culture and identity. This created a generation of lost souls who could not look to their past for guidance nor pride. Jipol humbly proclaimed that he did not choose this life; the life chose him.
The thought of raising his children in an environment such as this and watching them go through the same experiences he did was simply too much for him to bear. At the end of the day, regardless of our background or origin, the need to leave a better world behind for our descendants is universal.
Jipol concluded the session by urging us to stand up for Mother Earth and to get involved in any way we could. Check in with your local Native groups (Nogojiwanong, in our case) and do research on worthy issues and promotion of change.
For those unable to contribute time, financial donations can be given at www.gofundme.com under the Warriors Defence Fund. Funds raised will be used to provide legal services to those incarcerated during the protests.