The TEK Elders Group, spearheaded by Elders Raymond Owl and Willie Pine, is comprised of like-minded concerned citizens of the North Shore Region stretching from Garden River through North Bay. A most recent ally of passion and prominence to join forces with TEK is Melanie Laquerre, founder of Stop Aerial Herbicide Spraying on the Sudbury Forests, whose main focus is to increase awareness and educate in hopes of strengthening the number of supporters and broadening exposure for the cause.
The peaceful demonstration held on August 28, 2015 at the Mississaugi First Nation was the cumulative result of strategic planning in succession to the TEK Position Paper presented to Health Canada Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) asserting the rights of Elders to provide oral testimony of indigenous scientific knowledge. The target of this demonstration was to educate the general public about the practise of aerial spraying, the harmful effects of the herbicides, who are the decision makers and who gains the most profit, as well as provide details and links to the online petitions.
“It is actually surprising how many people are not aware of aerial spraying and how much control the forest industry and Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) have over the natural resources with no consultation or input from anyone,” says Elder Raymond. “The announcements for spraying are printed in local newspapers to say when and where – that’s it. We are told by Health Canada that the chemicals are safe, not harmful to humans, yet we are witness to absolute destruction of natural habitat and eco systems.”
The frustration for the current process that denies freedom of choice for people and resources affected by aerial spraying echoes amongst all Elders and is the fuel which propels the determination for change.
Respecting the interdependent balance of all life is the core philosophy of existence to the aboriginal people. Elder Raymond states, “As humans, we depend on the water, air, plants, animals, birds, insects and medicines for survival. They are what sustains life. It is all interconnected. It is the Creator's Plan for us to live in harmony with these elements and to benefit from a long healthy life, when we respect and honour what is given to us. It is our duty, therefore, to uphold the Creator's Plan.”
Spirituality is a most integral aspect of the Anishnawbek culture. The fundamental basis for daily living is to walk with the Seven Grandfather Teachings in the interactions and actions that affect all species given by the Creator. It is that very understanding that demands change before it is too late.
“Only when the last tree is cut down, only after the last river has been poisoned, only after the last fish has been caught, only then will you find that money cannot be eaten” – Cree Indian Prophecy
In his opening address during the demonstration, Deputy Chief Glen Hare UOI captured the collective thoughts for all: “It is sad that not all of our brothers and sisters are able to stand with us here today. They may have fear to speak their beliefs or they fear a consequence.” His deep appreciation and respect expressed to all the volunteers, whom carry the words of our Elders, was empowering.
“As I look around here, I see strong messages regarding our responsibility to protect the water, the air, bees, birds, moose, berries, medicines, fish, all of creation. I see here today a young woman soon to bring life into this world. She carries the sign Think about seven generations. This is so important in our message to always think about the children and grandchildren who are yet to come. This is why we are here today; we are the voice of those who are not yet here. What will be left to them if everything is taken and destroyed, we are all keepers of the land our children and grandchildren inherit what we leave behind.”
One poignant message brought to the demonstration was delivered by a little girl, the granddaughter of Willie Pine. It read in very bold letters SAVE THE BEES and was adorned with a graphic image of a bumble bee. That sign represents hope for the Elders as they encourage the young ones to learn and understand what is happening around them and to find the strength to say NO to these shameful practises on the land.
As it has been from the onset, youth from surrounding schools have been invited to TEK Elders Group meetings to learn and share their thoughts about aerial spraying herbicides on the forests. They have been challenged by the Elders to research and speak openly about what they are learning, thus the oral tradition continues by passing knowledge from one generation to the next in, preserving and protecting what the Creator provides.
Charlie Smith, a Massey area farmer and committed advocate, commented, “I suppose when we were young, it was the older folk that marched and protested for important issues, and now that we are the older folk, it is our turn. We got to get this right.”
Though the number of participants at the demonstration was not as large-scale as anticipated, the united presence of mind, body and spirit was gratifying for all those who attended and have pledged to peacefully fight until it is won.
Ultimately, the show of support is what the TEK Elder Group wished to achieve. We would like to acknowledge the dedicated group that made the demonstration possible:
Deputy Chief Glen Hare, Grand Chief Patrick Madahbee, Elder Bill McLeod (Falconbridge), Barbara Bronson McNickle, Clyde McNickle (Biscotasing), Heather Wilson (Liberal Party candidate), Carol Hughes (MP, New Democratic Party), the community of Mississaugi First Nation, participants from Elliot Lake, Emma Meawasige, Grace Manitowabi, Martha Toulouse, Leslie Knibbs, Allen Toulouse, the Ontario Provincial Police (special appreciation for Officer Todd Showan, OPP Liaison), Melanie Laquerre (Val Caron), Gerry Kingsley (Sudbury), the Mid North Monitor and the Northern Life.
Janet M. Owl CNM, Communications Liaison for the Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) Elders group