Photo courtesy of the Stop Energy East Facebook page.

By Samantha Restoule

 

A couple of weeks ago life handed me a lemon. “What am I supposed to do with this?” I asked myself. So I stood there, lemon in hand, wondering how to proceed. Well…you know what they say: when life gives you lemons, protest a pipeline. That’s how it goes, right?

 

My journey began when I interviewed a gentleman who’d spent some time camping at Standing Rock, North Dakota. That was the lemon. I was inspired; listening to him talk about how he turned something he cared about into a reality changed something within me. I couldn’t be a bystander any longer – I felt compelled to act. From there, I dove headfirst into pipeline protesting and environmental activism.

 

Then, life handed me another lemon.

 

On Friday, December 9, I was encouraged by a colleague to go to Nbisiing Secondary School where Water Walker, Josephine Mandamin, was visiting. This was exciting for me for two reasons: firstly, I wrote a paper about her last year in university, so to say that I was overwhelmed when I met her is an understatement. Second, she has walked the perimeter of all the Great Lakes in Canada – that’s over 16,800 kilometers! Mandamin has, and continues to state that she will go to great lengths to protect what is sacred. I took in the teachings she shared about honouring the water, speaking to it, and offering tobacco to this precious source.

 

Merely being in her presence is so powerful.

 

What are the odds that this incredible opportunity would arise shortly after I’d begun my own journey to do my part in protecting the water? Well, I don’t believe in coincidences; I believe everything happens for a reason.

 

Something she said that day really stuck with me: “It’s time for us to pick up our canoes and horses, and travel in those ways,” she stated. “Soon we will have to live in tipis, like we did before – we won’t have a choice. That’s why we need to do this work to protect the water.”

So many questions started running through my head. How could we ever go back? What can we do as grassroots individuals? Why does it seem like everybody wants change, yet nobody is willing to change? 

 

Next came the lemonade.

 

The following day, Saturday December 10, a local environmental activist group – Stop Energy East – organized a gathering at the Gateway Arch at Lee Park to stand in solidarity with the Water Protectors who’ve been camping at Standing Rock since April. Despite the cold, a solid group turned up to talk about the link between the fight to protect the waters in Canada and the NoDAPL movement. It’s so important to speak to that connection, because although the protests are in completely different places, we’re all fighting for the same thing – something that we all need – the lifeblood of our planet.

 

We stood together with our signs, joyously singing, and took a photo to send to Standing Rock so that they know: their fight is our fight.

 

From there, we walked with our signs to Anthony Rota’s office; he’s our Member of Parliament for the Nipissing-Timiskaming area. He represents the federal government here, so that’s about as close to “the source” we could get without actually going to Ottawa to speak to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself.

 

We rallied outside his office as a call for climate leadership following the approval of Enbridge’s Line 3 and Trans Mountain’s Kinder Morgan pipelines in Western Canada. Mr. Rota was present to answer to our questions, comments, and concerns. For that, I have utmost respect for him; he’s doing his job in that sense. People brought up environmental and economic concerns – all extremely valuable, true, and important comments. But no one was speaking up for First Nations people – so I did. As a member of Dokis First Nation, the Anishinabek Nation, and employee at the Union of Ontario Indians, I felt a strong sense of duty, in addition to my personal frustrations with the issue to speak up.

 

I told Mr. Rota that Canada is supposed to be working with its First Nations people towards reconciliation, not destroying their lands and clean water supplies. What about the treaties? It seems the government often forgets that we are all treaty people in this country. One of the main reasons Justin Trudeau was such a crowd favourite is because he was so committed to reconciling Canada’s relationship with its Indigenous people. What happened to that? The approval of these pipelines is a huge step in the opposite direction. So I said to Mr. Rota: As a First Nations person, how am I supposed to trust my government?

 

He had no comment, but his silence spoke volumes

 

It’s both fascinating and moving to see how Anishinaabe teachings and activism can somehow fit together. Perhaps it’s because the original way, the way our ancestors taught us, is the way we must return to – or at least start making meaningful strides towards.

 

One day I received the teachings, then the following day I had the opportunity to apply them to real life. That right there, is some good lemonade.

 

I’m very grateful for the lemons I’ve received lately, so grateful that I want to pay it forward: I urge you to learn more about these issues and spread the word. Oftentimes media coverage on these sorts of things is distorted because the government doesn’t like to look bad; it doesn’t like to look like it’s putting our clean drinking water and finite natural resources at risk, it doesn’t like to appear to be harboring the mistreatment of Indigenous people, it doesn’t like to openly admit it’s going back on its word – its word being the treaties.

Please do remember that taking no action is taking an action. We don’t need any more bystanders. Consider this me, handing you a lemon. Will you make some lemonade? It’ll probably taste better than oil.