Speaking at a recent forum in Corner Brook on fracking and oil development in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Miawpukek First Nation Chief Mi’sel Joe addressed the hypocrisy he says is implicit in the province’s anthem and decades of relentless natural resource exploitation and pollution.
In recent months many “experts” have spoken about the potential for fracking in Newfoundland, but one kind of expertise has largely been left out of the conversation.
Indigenous knowledge, or traditional knowledge, is passed down from generation to generation among the First Nations and Inuit of our province and is still shared through oral traditions and narratives by elders and chiefs of Indigenous groups here and all over the world. In fact, many say Indigenous knowledge is what allowed First Nations people to live on the Island for 8,000 to 10,000 years prior to European colonization.
On Feb. 1 Miawpukek First Nation Chief Mi’sel Joe spoke in Corner Brook at a forum on fracking and oil development in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which was organized to contribute to the public discussion around the question of whether or not we should permit hydraulic fracturing in our province.
As Chief Joe demonstrated that day, expertise doesn’t only come with doctorates in engineering and economics and the like.
Mi’sel began his speech by admitting he knew little about fracking itself — only that it has negatively impacted human health and the environment in places where it has been carried out by oil companies, with the approval of local governments, and often without the consent of First Nations people.
The impetus for his speech came from how the event began that day, when the 150 or so packed into the lecture hall at Grenfell Campus remained seated for Kepmite’tmnej, the Mi’kmaq Honour Song, but stood and removed their hats for the Ode to Newfoundland.
The ladies that came in to sing the Honour Song — it’s our anthem, and it talks about having respect for each other, having respect for the land, having respect for all of the things around us, and it’s not much different from your Ode to Newfoundland. And when we are in our own territory, and that national anthem of ours is called and sung, we stand and take off our hats to pay our respects. That didn’t happen here today, mainly because we didn’t ask you to, or forgot to mention it. See how well trained we are? Because when you say you’re going to sing the Ode to Newfoundland, everybody stands, put your hand over your heart, because that’s what we’ve been told we must do.
And that to me — the Ode to Newfoundland is an official document of the government of this province. That’s an official document. And I counted on that document, there are 11 places in that one song that says “We love thee Newfoundland.” And it says “We love thee smiling land,” “We love thee frozen land,” “We love thee windswept land,” “God guard thee, God guard thee, God guard thee Newfoundland.”
That’s an official document of this province—put together and accepted by all of us—that says this is our duty that we’ll guard this province against [anything] and everything that comes our way that will take away or destroy any part of this piece of granite that we live on and we all hold so precious. The officials of the Minister of Justice’s office has said, regardless of what happened in British Columbia, the duty to consult don’t apply to Newfoundland, particularly to Aboriginal people. It’s consultation free territory; you can come in and do whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want, and you don’t have to consult with Aboriginal people in this province. Well, that don’t only apply to us, it applies to all of Newfoundland. Because they’re not consulting with anyone.
How can you claim to love something and ask God to guard it, if you’re not prepared to stand there and do that, and [instead] allow money and greed and people to destroy what we have?
When we look at what they’re doing — and I would go back and say to the government of this province and the people of this province: You have to change your ode, your Ode to Newfoundland. Because you’re not living up to what the words say. How can you claim to love something and ask God to guard it, if you’re not prepared to stand there and do that, and [instead] allow money and greed and people to destroy what we have? So we need to change the Ode to say we allow all those things to happen: “We no longer love you Newfoundland, we hate you. And we want you to do whatever you want to destroy what we have here and what we hold dear.”
We as people, Aboriginal people, look at this land a little differently. We are just here for a short time, and we have to protect the land for seven generations of our people. If we don’t start protecting and doing our duty as Aboriginal people, there will be nothing here to protect for our children and our children’s children. I have a granddaughter and two great-grandchildren, and I would imagine there are many people in this audience today that have children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. What are we leaving for them? What are we gonna give them? I can remember when I could drink from any brook in Newfoundland — it was clean and clear water. What do we do today? We have to buy water. And where did that pollution come from? It come from the kind of things that we’re talking about today, about the fracking and oil development, and pollution flown in from other parts of the world. That’s what we have to give to our children.
The government will not stop doing what it’s doing, because they know that all they have to do is talk about jobs, the economy, bringing people home from the oil patch in Alberta. They will not stop until the people of this province take this ode that you was just read, and all stood to, and say we love you — but we don’t. At least I don’t think so. How can we stand and say we do, and let the things happen that’s happening in this province right now?
And I’ve heard enough about fracking to know what it’s done in other parts of the world. I’ve seen the documentaries that’s been done about fracking in other parts of the world. If I give you a bottle of that water that comes back from what they pump into the ground, no one wouldn’t drink it. But yet we expect people to drink the water that’s coming from the seepage that goes into people’s wells, and the rivers.
There’s enough damage already been done. The Churchill River is a prime example of that — the Innu people can’t eat the fish because it’s polluted with mercury. The Bay D’Espoire hydro development — we can’t eat the fish because it’s polluted with mercury. We can’t even go fishing anymore because the water’s been polluted offshore by big oil companies. So now we’re talking about allowing another form of pollution to come to this place that we love so much. We’re gonna talk about allowing them to drill down into the ground, they’re going to fill it with pollution, and they’re going to leave. Just like any construction company, it’s a boom-and-bust and what they leave behind is destruction and waste, and we have to try and pick up the pieces and make it all work again.
So I’m proposing that we change the Ode to Newfoundland if we’re not going to uphold it and stand by it and live and die for it, ‘til we change it to what it should say. Because you can’t say you love something and then destroy it — it don’t work that way, not in our world.
I didn’t have any slides to show you, I have no fancy speeches for you. But when I saw the ladies come and they sung our anthem, Kepmite’tmnej, I know what the words mean. And I was gonna stand, then I said ‘No, I don’t think I will — I think I’ll use it as my message today about your song you were going to sing’. Because we’re such hypocrites, all of us — I’m talking about me too, I’m talking about all of us. We’re such hypocrites, when we take a piece of paper that was put together by someone and accepted by government: “This is what we believe in.” Excuse me but, Godammit you’re not. You don’t believe in this — if you did you wouldn’t allow the things to happen.
If we don’t stop and take a look at what we’re doing, and commit to each other that we’re going to change all of that, we will have nothing at all. It’ll go like everything else in Newfoundland — the fisheries, the forests.
Now I was told that I would have 20 minutes to speak, but the last time I spoke for 20 minutes I was trying to convince the police not to lock me up. I put a padlock on Joe Goudie’s door in 1983 from the inside, because he wasn’t treating us right. And it took me half an hour to convince the police to let me go and come and get me another day. So I don’t think I can say any more on what I believe to be our rightful place in this province, and I don’t believe the Minister of Justice and his people have a right, or the Newfoundland government have a right to say to any of us that this is a consultation-free zone that you can do any damn thing you want, wherever you want, however you want.
This piece of rock that we live on is just as precious to me as it is to you. I don’t own it. We own it, all of us. And we’re all equally responsible for this piece of rock. When you take something away and pollute something and destroy something, you’re destroying something that’s precious to all us. We all have an obligation to our communities, to our people, to make sure that we have something to pass on to our children. And if we don’t stop and take a look at what we’re doing, and commit to each other that we’re going to change all of that, we will have nothing at all. It’ll go like everything else in Newfoundland — the fisheries, the forests.
I remind you of Chief Dan George’s words when he was asked to do his version of Oh, Canada, and he said, “Shall I thank you for what’s left of my beautiful forests, where it gave me my meat and my clothing? Shall I thank you for the canned fish in my rivers? Shall I thank you for all of the things that you’ve taken? Shall I thank you for the bottled water that I now have to drink because you polluted my rivers and my streams?” This is coming from Danny George back in the ’60s. Well it’s coming to pass for all of us at this stage. It’s come a time when it’s now or never. Now or never. And if somebody wanna start writing a new Ode to Newfoundland, I’ll help you. Because this one sure as hell not standing up to what we believe in. This is an official document that’s sanctioned by this government in this province. I’ve stood beside ministers of the Crown many, many times — when they sung this song they put their hand over their heart and said, ‘I love thee Newfoundland’. Well that’s a crock. As of today, that’s a crock. I don’t think anyone believes it anymore — it’s time to change it.
Wela’lioq. Thank you so much for allowing me to be here. And my grandfather always said before you leave a room, make sure you say, “If I insulted you in any way or upset you in any way, I apologize, I don’t mean to.” But he also said, “If you’re gonna say something, make sure you mean it.” And I do. Wela’lioq. Thank you.