I had the opportunity to meet an amazing woman twice last week, Maurina Beadle of Pictou Landing First Nations
In honour of National Aboriginal Day I would like to share her story as it is one of courage, hope, and bravery in the face of many obstacles. It is a story of standing up for oneself, one’s family and one’s community against all odds and in the face of a lifetime of discrimination and intimidation.
I first met Beadle at a panel discussion that I had been invited to take part in at the Mi’kmaq Friendship Centre in Halifax as the NDP Acting-Critic for Aboriginal Affairs. The panel, called “Our Dreams Matter Too” was about standing up for equity for First Nations children in health and education.
Beadle has a lot of experience with this as she has spent 18 years of her life caring for her son at home on the reserve. Jeremy Meawasige is a severely disabled youth and Beadle provided for all of his care until she suffered a severe stroke in 2010 making it impossible for her to continue on her own. The Pictou Landing Band stepped in to provide the care Jeremy needed to ensure he could stay at home and in his community. When the band asked the federal government to reimburse the costs for home-care services to the level that Jeremy would have received from the provincial government if he lived off reserve, Aboriginal Affairs refused, advising them to place Jeremy in an institution far away from his home at a cost to taxpayers that would exceed the in home care option. The Pictou Landing Band and Beadle challenged the decision in Federal Court, invoking Jordan’s Principle, a concept that was introduced by NDP MP Charlie Angus and received unanimous support in 2007. They won their case in a landmark decision by the Canadian Court. However the federal Conservative government is appealing the decision.
I next met with Beadle again last weekend in Pictou Landing First Nations. She was helping to keep the sacred fire burning just beyond the barricade for the protest about Northern Pulp’s recent potentially toxic effluent spill and clean up of Boat Harbour, which drew many First Nations and non-Native people alike.
As I sat with Beadle, and the other women keeping the fire Saturday afternoon, we talked about their community, their history and tradition of protecting the sacred elements of land, air and water which are necessary for all life. I was struck by the sheer resilience of these amazing, humble, kind and compassionate women and their people. They have been through so much during the years – and, in fact, over generations since the “first contact” with Europeans. Pretty well every First Nations person I know is deeply concerned about man’s heedless race to tear up, chop down and burn every “natural resource” that exists to the detriment of our health, and the overall health of this small blue planet which is becoming increasingly small as we become more and more connected on a global level.
Man’s desire to turn everything into a commodity – caring more for the financial worth than the innate value of the thing itself – is a problem for those who care about the environment, and the health and future of their families and communities. Judging from the emails I’m receiving from business people and those in the tourism industry, more and more businesses are becoming concerned about our environment as well. That is because a healthy environment makes good business sense here in Nova Scotia and beyond our borders.
These women at Pictou Landing performed a water ceremony to ask forgiveness of Mother Earth for the harm that has been caused and to promise to protect her in future – once the barricade was taken down. Join with me in honouring our First Nations neighbours and friends and join together for the future we want for all our children. It is time to heal the mistakes, and wounds, of the past for all of our First Nations communities and for Mother Nature herself. What we do collectively as a species beyond the barricade will determine the future of our planet. The time to act is now.
Lenore Zann is the MLA for Truro-Bible Hill-Millbrook-Salmon River. She is a member of the NDP.