(Posted March 28 as One Woman’s Choice Presages a Planet’s Fate)
This is the story of Idle No More hunger strikers Jeannette Pilot, Chief Theresa Spence, and Grand Elder Raymond Robinson, each of whom concluded prolonged hunger- and/or thirst-strikes as directed by Spirit, with the realization that their lives and voices would have a greater impact than their deaths. Their protests speak for every nation and people – from Canada to Arkansas, to Brazil, Peru and Ecuador, Nigeria and Australia – whose land and water are stolen and desecrated and poisoned for the sake of oil.
Jeannette Pilot is almost certainly dying as I write…and her choice to lay down her life for the Land and her People has haunted me now for weeks. Not only for the tragedy of her death, but also its implications for the world.
The story broke quietly, and has had no follow-ups: only Idle No More initially ran the news that Mme. Pilot had chosen to move from her 2-1/2 month hunger strike into also declining fluids, in an effort to force the Harper administration to cease its assaults on Canadian land, water, and Indigenous sovereignty.
ready to go to the end so that the rights of the First Nations are recognized, and to fight alongside the IDLE NO MORE movement for the people and the future generations. I demand that Harper’s Conservative government stop its modification of certain laws and its imposition of others without first consulting the people who will be affected by them.
She went on to list a series of draconian laws that sweep away environmental protections (such as the Navigation Protection Act, which under the guise of “removing red tape” also removes protections from any waterway that is not navigable – i.e., protecting navigation but opening the land and water to exploitation) while whittling away the sovereign rights of Indigenous peoples on the land (such as the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act, which aims to impose non-Native social and property-ownership concepts on Traditional Native communities on the reserves).
She closed her statement with a heart-wrenching account of the desecration being wreaked upon the boreal forest following the wholesale removal of environmental protections:
…I demand a moratorium on the massive deforestation of the boreal forest in Nitassinan and the province of Québec. The state of the forests, the pace of deforestation, and the carelessness of the band councils and the government call to mind the tragedies in Malaysia or the Amazon. To satisfy the companies’ insatiable thirst, the government is still issuing logging permits. These permits could endanger fragile ecosystems and threaten indigenous peoples’ traditional lifestyles. Because, as Innu, we must preserve the link between Pappassik and Atik, we condemn the fact that the government of Québec, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the federal government of Canada are threatening our age-old relationship with Atik by making Labrador a forbidden area, forbidding us from hunting caribou on that territory.
Make no mistake: she is describing ecocide and genocide. No other terms can be used. And Mme. Pilot, in laying down her life for the sake of the land and her people’s right to practice their ancient traditions on the land, is sounding a wake-up call – even though her statement has generated only a small acknowledgement in Parliament, as opposed to the storm of reposts throughout the blogosphere.
But it is the powerful statement contained in the way she has chosen to die that haunts me: thirst.
Of all the elements on this planet today, none is under greater attack than water. Only 3% of all the water on Earth is fresh and usable by humans; of that, only 0.007% is available for use. Of that, the vast majority is used for energy, agriculture and industry.
The entire process of producing fossil fuel energy, from extracting fuel to generating power, demands massive use of water. Of that water, little or none emerges in any useable condition ; most is irredeemably toxic and must be disposed of in some way – often poisoning available groundwater.
Before the new legislation, Canada’s Navigable Waters Protection Act covered more than 2 million lakes and over 8,500 rivers across the country. The new law, C-45, covers only 97 lakes and 62 rivers, leaving Canada’s share of the world’s fresh water wide open to the massive depletion required for energy production, whether through Tar Sands extraction, fracking, or uranium mining.
As the Harper government prepares to consume Canada’s wealth of water for energy production, and poison what is left — echoing what is being done wholesale by governmental fiat and international trade in the U.S., South America, and elsewhere around the globe — Jeannette Pilot’s terminal water fast presages the thirst that we will all experience if we do not act to stop our equally suicidal destruction of Earth’s water supply in our greedy and obsolete quest for fossil fuel energy.
Update: 4/6/13 – Jeannette Pilot/Shanet Pilouss was the second of the First Nations peoples of Canada to undertake a hunger strike to the end, demanding that the Harper government alter its ecocidal/genocidal course against the land, water and indigenous peoples of the half-continent his administration rules. She was the first to stat a thirst strike…and halted her strike at a promise of support from the Ghislain Picard, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador (AFNQL ), and Chief Georges-Ernest Grégoire and the Board of Uashat mak mani Utenam.
I just learned with grief that another First Nations elder is hunger- and thirst-striking to protest the Harper government’s juggernaut-like overrunning of Indigenous rights. Grand Elder Raymond Robinson, who first began fasting with Chief Theresa Spence, is edging nearer to death while the most government officials can seem to say is “We hope he stops” – while completely ignoring the message that he, Jeannette Pilot, and Chief Spence have been risking their lives to send.
To quote the Cree proverb: “Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realise we cannot eat money”.
Nor can we drink it. Nor can we breathe it.
Let me close with the words of Indigenous peoples from around the world on the scarcity and sacredness of water.