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Maude Barlow brings a new water ethic to Nova Scotia

Yesterday Maude Barlow swept across Nova Scotia, and I had the pleasure of tagging along for the ride. In the morning she spoke at the Mother Earth and Climate Justice Symposium in Antigonish, hosted by Dorene Bernard, grassroots grandmother and Coady Social Justice Chair. In the evening she spoke at an event hosted by our North Shore chapter about trade and water rights.

The Mother Earth Symposium was incredible. Dorene Bernard has been working for years to protect the water in Mi’kma’ki and everywhere, and has been sharing Mi’kmaq knowledge and practices with water protectors of all kinds. She was recently named the Coady Institute Social Justice Chair, a program that tries to bridge “local and global concerns, involving the community, and encouraging an interdisciplinary approach to issues.” Through this institution Dorene Bernard has been linking struggles for the protection of water across the country and the globe. Yesterday’s symposium brought together people fighting Alton Gas here in Nova Scotia, fighting fracking in South Africa, and fighting for rights and stewardship of salt lagoons in Ghana.

At the Mother Earth Climate Justice Symposium at St. FX University we got to meet and learn with water protectors from across Mi’kma’ki.

It was interesting and relevant to hear from people engaged in the anti-fracking struggle in South Africa. Both black and white South African farmers are in the thick of fighting fracking, and bridging the cultural and historical divides between these groups of people is an ongoing process as they work towards a common goal. As the Council has been supporting the Mi’kmaq-led fight against Alton Gas, and trying to help settler activists and allies support the Alton Gas fight in anti-colonial ways, it was useful to hear about how activists in South Africa are working through their anti-colonial process. I hope to learn more from them in the future!

In both Antigonish and Tatamagouche Maude spoke about the need to protect water from harmful projects like Alton Gas and fracking, but also from corporate claims through trade deals. Water was first listed as a good in trade deals in the 80s, and since then has been the centre of uprisings and resistance across the world. This was what started Maude on her crusade as a water protector. If we fast forward from then to the present, Maude is now calling for a new water ethic in Canada: one where we understand and value water as a limited resource that needs protecting from not only chemical pollution, but corporate ownership.

A huge portion of water usage globally can be directly tied to consumption enabled by global trade deals, she says. “When we write trade deals, we don’t ask about the water footprint, we ask about what will be good for corporations. That needs to change.”

She warned that when power holders talk about free trade, they really mean “trade free from government interference”. They want the lowest level playing field so that corporations don’t have to navigate different forms of regulation as they do business in different countries. “And they want that level as low as humanly possible.”

Maude thanked the North Shore chapter for putting on such a great event (and I do, too!), and started off her talk by lauding all the hard work that went into the end of the Energy East pipeline.

Great turnout in Tatamagouche last night! Thanks to the North Shore chapter for organizing this event. 

An interesting question came from the crowd in Tatamagouche. How have activism and social movements changed throughout Maude’s career? She talked about wins in the women’s movement, and reflected that in her own mother’s lifetime women were finally granted the right to vote. She spoke about gains the LGBTQIAA+ movement and how social acceptance and legally-protected rights have been won by tireless organizing by members of that community.

“There have been huge changes in the relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous relationships, and we really have Stephen Harper to thank for that. He was so awful we had no choice but to fight together,” she said, referencing the omnibus bill that stripped 99% our lakes and rivers of protection from pollution and degradation.

“There has also been a sea change in the rights of Mother Earth,” she said. She can see it everywhere, from the streets of Cochabamba to the classrooms of her grandchildren’s schools. She reflected that the revolution in Bolivia in 2000 was driven by the outrage that water in all its forms, including rainwater, had been privatized and claimed as property by a company called Bechtel. The outrage that resulted was so strong that Bechtel was forced to leave Bolivia, and the political changes that followed resulted in Bolivia electing its first Indigenous president, Evo Morales, and creating the Cochabamba Accord on the Rights of Mother Earth. And she once visited her grandchildren’s school to give a talk to the grade 4 classes, and was surprised and impressed with the level of knowledge and discussion on environmental and social issues that were already happening at that level.

Having Maude here in Nova Scotia has been a real pleasure to boost our spirits and remind us on the value and power of the movements we are a part of.

Thanks to everyone who worked to stop Energy East and who continues working for justice on multiple fronts! Photo: Berta Gaulke.