Breaking the Paddle

E_p12_street_photoPerseverance, the painting featured in the photo, was one of many artworks at the June 13 festival: Toast the Coast Before the Coast is Toast. It was held at Jericho Beach to celebrate our beautiful coastline beaches and keep them free of oil spills. The event was sponsored by Greenpeace along with about 24 partner organizations. It was free for all ages and featured artists, musicians, and many activities. There was a major presence of indigenous people especially the Coast Salish. The event took place on unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. It was estimated nearly 5000 people attended throughout the day.

Marissa Nahanee, the painter of Perseverance, is from the Squamish and Nisga’a Nations. Only 28 years old, for the past 20 years, she has been a member of the Chinook SongCatchers as a singer, dancer, choreographer, storyteller, model and public speaker.

She is passionate about the ability to live of the land, and fears that it is threatened by the possibility of an oil spill. On a recent trip from Haida Gwaii, she was bringing live sea urchins to family members in Vancouver. This required changing the seawater at several stops along the way. Upon reaching Vancouver, it was impossible to change the water because of the recent oil spill in English Bay. This was a devastating experience. Indigenous people who live downstream from the Tar Sands have already experienced a change in their way of life. They claim the flora and fauna they depend on for food has become toxic and there has been a rise in the incidence of cancer among their people.

Perseverance was painted on site. The human face represents Mother Earth as she reflects on the changes that have occurred over time. We can see a pipeline and spill on the right under her face.

Perseverance was certainly the force behind a lot of the speeches and musical entertainment. Sut’lut Antone of the Squamish Nation did the opening speech. She had previously been arrested on Burnaby Mountain during the peaceful protest there when Kinder Morgan crews were test drilling for an underground pipeline. She told of the custom in her culture of “breaking the paddle” which was done when people lost faith and trust in their leader. She stated she was symbolically “breaking the paddle” with Christy Clark and her support of fracking to extract liquid natural gas. This pollutes fresh water and causes large amounts of methane gas to escape creating a serious impact on climate change. Ms. Antone also “broke the paddle” with Bernard Valcourt, the Minister of Aborginal Affairs, and all those who sign on with oil and pipeline companies like Kinder Morgan, Shell Oil (who has approval to begin drilling for oil in the Arctic), and Enbridge (who wants to build a pipeline from the Tar Sands to Kitimat.) Of course, all the tar sands oil extraction and pipelines would increase tanker traffic along B.C.’s coast, greatly increasing the risk of an oil spill. The Government of the Day represented by PM Harper which supports expansion of the Tar Sands and pipelines did not escape criticism. She stated Bill C-51 “won’t keep this mom quiet.”

Another initial speaker was rapper Christy Charles from the Musqueam Nation. She spoke of the importance of knowing her own language to understand her customs and her people’s knowledge of the past, and spoke eloquently of her people’s close relationship to nature. She stated that in the past there were 51 salmon streams in the Jericho Beach area and now there was only one left on the Musqueam reserve. Her people were able to examine a salmon and tell you what river it came from. Now through over fishing, global warming and habitat pollution, salmon stocks are diminishing. A major oil spill would create a disaster in the fishing industry that would be nearly impossible to recover from.

Tsleil Waututh Nation Sundance Chief Rueben George, spoke passionately of his people’s resistance to the Kinder Morgan pipeline. Tsleil Waututh Nation is located in North Vancouver along the shores of the Burrard Inlet just across from the terminus of Kinder’s Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline. They have launched a legal challenge against further development of the Kinder Morgan pipeline. Their laws mandate them in the form of a sacred trust to act as stewards for the land, air and water that nourishes them, and they will not allow Kinder Morgan to jeopardize their territory. This is the first legal challenge by a First Nation against the new pipeline and tanker proposal, and it may cause significant delay and uncertainty to the project. The Tsleil Waututh have certainly “broken the paddle” with the federal Crown and the National Energy Board who they feel are “running roughshod over their Aboriginal Title and Rights.” They have stated that the process to review Kinder Morgan’s proposed pipeline expansion and tanker project was designed without First Nations consultation or public participation.

It certainly helped that Jane Fonda, famous actress and activist, participated for the duration of the festival from 4 pm till dusk. She has been standing up for indigenous rights since 1970. She has pledged to fight for the environment for her remaining days fuelled by Canadian Naomi Klein’s book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. The book explores a do or die scenario between becoming active against “big oil” or seeing life jeopardized on this planet. As Jane Fonda expressed it, continued oil development is for the enrichment of the few to the detriment of us all. She described the Arctic ice as the earth’s air conditioner. Shell drilling in the Arctic will contribute to ice melt and global warming along with all the pollution that will be caused in that pristine environment. Jobs, says Fonda, can easily be created through investment in renewable energy rather than the exploitation of oil. She feels we must mobilize our efforts with indigenous peoples and signal our opposition with our vote in the next federal election. Jane was joined in her efforts by Canadian actress Rachel McAdams and Melina Laboucan-Massimo of the Lubicon Cree First Nation, a climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace Canada.

An apt ending to the festival was the candle-lit launching of a beautiful salmon lantern designed by Roy Henry Vickers on a make-shift float. It was put together from 100% recycled materials by Uproot collective; this emphasized the no-waste environmental theme of the event. All the power used during Toast the Coast was generated by solar panels.

People tied their wishes to the float and sent it out to sea as members of the Squamish Nation drummed and sang. The inspiring event gave hope that by “breaking the paddle” with environmentally irresponsible leaders and companies, we can mobilize for a greener world.

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