SASKATOON — Hundreds were in attendance at the Kisisaskatchewan Water Alliance Network rally for those concerned about the environmental catastrophe on the North Saskatchewan River. High-profile speakers included David Suzuki. The event was hosted by knowledge keeper Tyrone Tootoosis.
Elder Emil Bell, who had held a fast for the river when the disaster happened, spoke about how young people lose hope and trust in the adult world when they don’t see a future for themselves.
“The oil companies, the uranium companies do not care one iota for grassroots people,” said Bell. “We have the premier of Saskatchewan in Korea, China, selling the minerals, uranium, from northern Saskatchewan. He wants to dump the uranium to those people who create bombs.”
Bell asked why it took so long to react to the oil spill at Maidstone, and why it takes so long for people to protect Mother Earth and sacred water.
“Calling down white people will not solve the problem; we have to work with them. The Cowboys and Indians Alliance in (the U.S.) are further ahead than we are,” said Bell. “Water is life: no water, no life. It’s that simple. Civil disobedience is our responsibility: to protect Mother Earth, to protect the water for future generations.”
Christi Belcourt called on a revolution for the water. “We already know that water is sacred, that water is life. But we need more people to be of one mind. What the oil companies don’t have, and what we have, is that we are willing to give our lives for the water.”
She noted that “The antidote for greed is giving. We need to be willing to give all that we have, the way Mother Earth has given all that she has, to water, and to life.”
Water treatment plants are not going to solve problems for all the babies of the plant and animal world, let alone for humans, noted Belcourt.
“Water exists in every single life form; there is nothing that water is not within.”
Belcourt echoed Bell’s kudos to women.
“Women have power. Don’t ever forget it. We are leading this movement for water. Let us give every single thing we have, for our babies, and for the next generation, even if it means giving our lives,” said Belcourt.
David Suzuki said he was honoured to be there, and thanked the indigenous peoples who took great care of the land for thousands of years, before thanking the river for being part of the circulatory system of the lands, providing life-giving water; and asking the river for forgiveness for returning that generosity with toxins and pollution.
There is no place for the sacred in our economy or our politics, noted Suzuki, which is why the water is treated in such a cavalier fashion. The Kisaskatchewan water alliance is coming together because it is a human crisis.
“We are at an unprecedented moment in the history of life on this planet,” noted Suzuki. “This is the age when human beings have become the dominant force affecting the physical, chemical, and biological properties of the planet on a geological scale.”
He noted that our legacy will be recorded in the geological layers of the earth, should there be life to see it.
Eighty per cent of the forests have been invaded. Ten per cent of the last wild areas has disappeared in the past 25 years. We have altered the chemistry of the atmosphere and spread toxic pollutants across the planet. Human invasion of the wild is accelerating.
Indigenous peoples across the world have been on the forefront of movements to protect the planet.
“As we know, water doesn’t know boundaries, and neither do the decolonized indigenous peoples,” said Assembly of Manitoba Grand Chief Derek Nepinak. “You can’t place a dollar value on water. We’re trading three or four barrels of water for one barrel of oil, and it doesn’t make sense.”
Many in leadership are forced to take deals because of enforced poverty, noted Nepinak, because corporate oil and gas have offered money.
“Our organization in Manitoba has not accepted a dime,” he said. “It’s been very difficult because when the Harper government made all the cuts is when the energy companies came in and tried to buy our support.”
Ricardo Segovia, a scientist with E-Tech Independent Consulting, spoke as an indigenous person from El Savador now living in east Vancouver. He noted there is a lot of oil and mining money going into universities, which makes people afraid to speak out. His company is based in the US and does work for people who don’t have access to technical information, such as Ecuador and Peru, where it’s often indigenous people living on the resources being exploited. They were called in to Saskatchewan.
“We did sampling on August 16 and 17, almost a month after the spill, and there was still crude oil on the riverbanks, along with chemicals in the sediments,” noted Segovia, adding the chemicals on the surface are going to evaporate and the rest is going to submerge. “This spill is not over; there is a lot submerged under the surface and in the sediments for years to come.”
In 14 hours, the oil came a long way down the river; the reaction from Husky was inadequate. Segovia noted communities need to take part in the monitoring of their own lands, along with traditional knowledge, to really measure impact on the land, animals, environment and people.
“Colonization continues, whether it is the clear cutting, the murder in Ecuador, the oil spills in Peru, the mining companies suing my country because peoples decided not to have mining in El Salvador: it’s all colonization and we need to put a stop to it.”
First Vice-Chief Kimberly Jonathan observed that the Creator and the grandmothers and grandfathers were guiding all the knowledge being shared, and to have gratitude for everything, from hurt to joy.
“I greet you as family because that’s our teachings, we’re all here as family. Nobody’s better than anyone else or worse than anyone else, nobody deserves to starve, nobody deserves not to have water.”
Dr. Tim Jardine of the University of Saskatchewan Water Security Institute and Garry Carriere from Cumberland House spoke about the water and positive partnerships.
“Things are changing at the university,” noted Jardine. “The U of S cares a lot about water, and most importantly, since I moved here five years ago, I’ve worked with several communities downstream, including Cumberland House.”
Carriere spoke about how the biggest inland delta in North America has been his home, and he’s mainly defended it alone.
“It was the moose and muskrat capital of the world, 10,000 square km, and most of you don’t know that it exists in this province. I’m here to represent the delta and let you know our community has been crying out to the government that by putting structures on the river you’ve altered our way of life.”
“We owe it to the land; coming from the north we still live off the land and depend on the land. We owe it to the animals; we have to be a voice for them. Our delta is dying.”
Carriere said if hearts, minds, science, and traditional knowledge join together there can be a better future.
“Water is our first medicine.”
Dr. Ryan Meili, who works with Upstream, echoed this sentiment as a doctor, saying we need to spend less time on people when they’re sick and more time on spending resources to keep them healthy: food, education, clean water and a supportive environment.
He mentioned the community of James Smith and the city of Prince Albert, noting everyplace alongside the river is impacted detrimentally along with health outcomes.
“Spills like this affect our lives; incidents like these are drastic and dramatic,” said Meili, inviting people to talk about today in terms of health. “It’s common sense. Nobody can get behind a political decision that is going to make us sicker. At the very least, we need stringent regulations on pipelines, especially around bodies of water, and those regulations being enforced by governments because businesses have too many conflicts of interest to be trusted with decisions that are that important.”
Prevention and protection is what we need, not cleaning up after the fact, noted Meili.
“We need to revisit our cultural and spiritual and traditional beliefs, and live by them,” said Tootoosis. “To the oil and gas sector our mother is not even alive: language is power, and land is life.”
Don Kossick closed the event with a call into an independent public inquiry into the Husky oil spill as to why it took 14 hours to move.
“North Battleford didn’t have to lose their water supply, Prince Albert didn’t have to lose their water supply, that’s what the inquiry should be about,” said Kossick. “People should have been evacuated from the chemicals that were released. In fact the premier said pipelines are really good and we should build more of them.”
The current and future costs of the spill are still uncalculated, and there is no transparency about pipelines or fracking, noted Kossick. “We need an arms-length independent watchdog group; right now we only get it from them who caused the problem.”
Kossick noted there was a $2.7 million provincial cutback on health and safety of pipelines just before the Husky spill.