Last night I participated in a town hall against Alton Gas in Sipekne’katik (Indian Brook First Nation), as part of a town hall tour on the topic. We started off with a dinner for all participants, and the food could not have been more fitting for the occasion. We ate a striped bass that Dale Poulette caught from the Shubenacadie River – one of two rivers threatened by the Alton Gas project.
I could talk at length about this lengthy fish – it was a flaky, juicy, 100% yummy, fresh bass that fed 25 people with leftovers to spare. It was proof to all the senses that the Shubenacadie is alive, and that it provides for Mi’kmaq and settlers alike.
As we digested our meals, the panel spoke not only about Alton Gas but the need to decolonize our work, our communities, and our understanding of how we use and share this land. Elder Alan Knockwood, grassroots grandmother Dorene Bernard, and treaty rights holder Michelle Paul spoke alongside Dale and shared their perspectives on this project.
Dale Poulette caught a giant Striped bass! Photo by Dale.
People say you are what you eat, and as the fish in my belly slowly became part of me I gained a new understanding of what it means to say ‘water is life’. The Shubenacadie’s waters sustain life, they connect life – now it sustained and connected my body, that bass, and the whole river ecosystem.
To me this fish is food, but it’s also an idea that there is a different and better way to live on this land. People have thrived here for millennia, and they have done so by being responsible stewards of the land, not owners or abusers of it. The laws that make projects like Alton Gas acceptable in the eyes of the Nova Scotia government are not rooted in this spirit of stewardship and care. They are rooted in colonial and capitalist values of profit and domination. To approve the Alton Gas project is a demonstration of the lack of understanding of the real value of the Shubenacadie River.
What I heard from the speakers last night is when fighting things like Alton Gas, fracking, pipelines and other environmentally-destructive industries, Mi’kmaq and Indigenous people across Turtle Island (North America) are really fighting the concept of colonization and trying to build back people’s values and practice of stewardship and living in line with treaty. As a non-indigenous participant in this fight, I am still learning what living in line with treaty even means, but this meal makes a little easier to conceptualize.
This bass depended on the Shubenacadie River, it was caught by a Mi’kmaw fisherman, and shared with Mi’kmaq and non-Indigenous peoples coming together to figure out how to protect the water we all depend on. To me, this is a microcosm of the peace and friendship that the treaties were supposed to enable.
Thanks to the grassroots people fighting Alton Gas and protecting water for all of us, and thanks to the Dartmouth North Community Food Centre for some great potato salad to go beside our bass!