Indigenous

Mi'kma'ki Water Walk moved to Earth Day to protest natural gas project

A sacred water ceremony by a group of First Nations women has been moved up to take place on Earth Day, due to their concerns about an ongoing natural gas storage project along the Shubenacadie River in Nova Scotia.

Week-long ceremonial walk will run from Grand Lake to Maitland, N.S.

In 2016, members of the Sipekne'katik First Nation placed a flag and 10 treaty-based fishing traps near the Alton Gas work site on the Shubenacadie River. (Robert Short/CBC)

A sacred water ceremony by a group of First Nations women has been moved up to take place on Earth Day, due to their concerns about an ongoing natural gas storage project along the Shubenacadie River in Nova Scotia.

"When we learned about the Alton Gas project, we decided to carry the water up the river," said Mi'kmaw Dorene Bernard of Sipekne'katik First Nation. 

"This year seems to be really important that we start [early] because of the imminent threat of the Alton Gas project …. It's really scary, and we're not prepared to let [the project] go any further ahead than it is now."

Bernard said up to 15 Mi'kmaq women and dozens of supporters will share the ceremonial walk leading from Grand Lake to Maitland, N.S. The ceremony involves walking in silent prayer, while carrying fresh water in copper pots and tobacco from location to location. The group is walking about 10 kilometres a day from Sunday until Saturday. 

Dorene Bernard said up to 15 Mi'kmaq women and dozens of supporters will share the ceremonial walk. (CBC)

Water walks have been taking place in Mi'kma'ki, as the area is called in Mi'kmaq, since 2007, Bernard said. They are organized by the Grassroots Grandmothers Circle,  a group of women from numerous First Nations and other cultures who came together to provide spiritual and practical support for their communities.

In years past, the Mi'kma'ki water walk has taken place later in the year, but Bernard said the group is concerned about the natural gas project that's ongoing along the river. The rescheduling also allows the ceremony to coincide with Earth Day.

The Alton Gas project on the Shubenacadie River. (Shawn Maloney)

Natural gas storage project

The natural gas storage project, run by Alton Natural Gas Storage LP, seeks to store natural gas in caverns carved out of naturally-occurring salt deposits, according to the company's website.

Water from the Shubenacadie River is cycled underground through a drilled well, eroding the salt and forming a cavern for natural gas to be stored. The water and salt mixture is then cycled back out and discharged into the river. 

A spokesperson for Alton Gas confirmed the project has received approval under environmental and provincial regulations, and "continues to be open for dialogues and discussions with First Nations."

Bernard, a participant in demonstrations opposing the project, said that while that particular project is of great concern, the water walk is about "healing and protecting" water everywhere, and everyone who lives by it.

"We walk to create awareness for its importance to all of us, as human beings. We're here to ensure that there is clean drinking water to nourish our people and Mother Earth for seven generations to come." 

Traditionally, First Nations women hold the responsibility of protecting and caring for water, Bernard said, because they are given the gift of bringing life forward. She says while in the womb, people are surrounded by water and then upon delivery, "the water comes first." 

Inspired by Great Lakes walk

She said the inspiration for the ceremonies dates back to 2003, when Anishinaabe elder Josephine Mandamin took her first ceremonial water walk around Lake Superior. 

Mandamin, who has participated in water ceremonies "all over Turtle Island," said she never expected to be an inspiration.

"I had no great intentions," she said. 

"I was just going to walk around Lake Superior, and then it happened that we had to do the five Great Lakes. We did one lake every spring, and now it's mushroomed into something really big."

A photo from the initial Mother Nature Water Walk around Lake Superior in 2003. (Mother Nature Water Walk)

Mandamin said she's always hopeful the conditions of drinking water will improve and said there is much to be learned, even for First Nations people.

She said there still exists a disconnect between people's consumption of water and "how they honour it." She said efforts like that of Bernard and the Grassroots Grandmothers are vital, but just a drop in the bucket. 

"[Bernard] has been very vocal and they are very powerful women in the East ... but I believe that all women have a lot of work to do," she said.

"We're all two-legged, no matter if we're black, yellow, white or red. We all have to protect what's been given to us on Turtle Island." 

About the Author

Nic Meloney

Videojournalist

Nic Meloney is a Wolastoqi video journalist raised on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia/Mi'kma'ki. Email him at nic.meloney@cbc.ca or follow him on Twitter @nicmeloney.

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