Listuguj First Nation Chief Scott Martin (left), Roseann Martin of Listuguj First Nation, Bobby Pictou of Chapel Island First Nation and Academy Award nominated actor Ethan Hawke participate in a traditional water ceremony Monday afternoon in Afton. PHOTO: Emily Hiltz
Actor, screenwriter and Antigonish County land owner Ethan Hawke joined Mi’kmaq leaders Monday to add his voice to the call for a 12-year moratorium on offshore oil and gas activities in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Hawke, who has owned a place in Antigonish County for 15 years, described the area as a magical place.
“The elders of this community, particularly the Mi’kmaq have proven themselves to be totally trustworthy stewards of this land,” Hawke said.
“I’m here because I believe in the Mi’kmaq’s ability to decide what is best for this land and for this water. I support their right to determine that for themselves.”
Hawke said he was present as a neighbour and friend, adding he was flattered to be invited to the press conference and traditional Mi’kmaq water ceremony.
“A lot of times what happens is people aren’t angry about drilling offshore until after it has already happened and we can’t pretend we’re not smart enough to know what the possibilities are and we know what the motivations of the oil companies are,” Hawke said, noting while oil seems valuable in the short term, water is invaluable.
Paqtnkek Chief Paul James (PJ) Prosper said the water ceremony was a new occasion for many.
“It’s through ceremony that we come to get to a fuller and richer understanding of who we are as Mi’kmaq people on this land,” he said, noting Pomquet Harbour, where the water ceremony took place, was also where Donald Marshall Jr. was arrested in 1993 for harvesting eels.
The Supreme Court of Canada acquitted Marshall in 1999, ruling Mi’kmaq have the right to earn a moderate livelihood from fishing.
“We are all a treaty people and we all hold this sacred responsibility to take care of the land and resources not only for ourselves but for future generations,” Prosper said.
“We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters to the north. We recognize there is a need to protect the lands and resources and to do that in a responsible manner.”
Co-founder of Save Our Seas and Shores, Mary Gorman, noted according to scientists, the Gulf of St. Lawrence is one of the most fragile and precious ecosystems on earth.
“Federal and provincial governments have created such an offshore regulatory mess in the Gulf of St. Lawrence that we have five provinces trying to cut up a single body of water,” Gorman said. “The problem is, water moves and oil and fish don’t recognize provincial boundaries.”
Gorman noted the industry control boards have a conflict of interest because they function as both promoters of petroleum development and protectors of marine habitat, allowing petroleum companies to monitor their own safety and environmental requirements.
“How did Canada’s protection of marine habitat get placed in the hands of the petroleum industry?” she asked.
Chief Scott Martin of Listuguj First Nation in Quebec spoke of the need for a 12-year moratorium on drilling because there are “numerous knowledge gaps” identified in the strategic environment assessment.
“There must be a distinct process to study the whole of the gulf as one ecosystem,” Martin said, noting it should be done independently from the petroleum boards. “We demand that the race to drill in the gulf be stopped,” he added.
Executive director of the Mi’gmawei Mawiomi Secretariat Troy Jerome said while Canada is thinking about drilling in the Gulf of St. Lawrence “we’re telling them that they cannot do it without speaking with the Mi’kmaq.”
Jerome added the way to do this would be to complete one comprehensive study that shows the Gulf of St. Lawrence as a single body of water and what could happen if drilling occurs there.
“Let’s get a 12-year moratorium out there … let’s call upon all the new Liberal MPs in the Atlantic [provinces],” Jerome said.
“What we’re trying to do is make sure all people from Nova Scotia go up to their MPs and say, ‘what are you doing about the gulf? Ethan Hawke is here doing something about the gulf, what are you doing about the gulf?”
Prosper said one of the things he has heard newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talk about is his willingness to meet aboriginal people on a nation to nation basis.
“I think that’s really important,” Prosper said. “It’s reflected within our treaty relationship which is a nation to nation relationship and I’m sure the new government will take active steps to recognize the nation of the Mi’kmaq people and to engage in a meaningful dialogue in a respectful way,” he said.
Martin said when the Liberal government was campaigning at their doors the representatives said “we’re here to work with you.”
“We’ve been trying to stop this for many years now and now that there is a new government, now is their time to step up to the plate,” Martin said.