Blue Communities Coordinator Paul Baines, spent 3 days talking to Sisters, Staff, and Associates in late October while visiting Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, and North Bay. Below is a brief summary.
We named these events "Water is the First Medicine" to honour how water is more than a resource and an active element in our wellbeing. It also honours the Sister's legacy of providing health care and healing to those in need.
After both a breakfast meeting with Candance Day Neveau and lunch meeting with Sisters Bonnie Chesser and Mary Jo Radey -- all at the West Side Cafe, Paul was ready to co-host these Blue Community talks with Anishinaabe water protectors and meet with the Congregation in the 3 different locations.
Candace is from a group called Bawating Water Protects. As a member of the Anishinabek nation, she works on Great Lakes and Indigenous sovereignty issues, with a particular interest in the production and storage of nuclear waste. Watch her present to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission last spring (after a brief introduction by a passionate and entertaining Ottawa River water protector).
Did you know the Nuclear Waste Management Organization is spending $26 billion to find a willing community to host our nuclear waste forever? Candace recently spoke at the United Nations about Canada's nuclear waste legacy and it's impacts on Indigenous nations. In this article she says:
“For me personally, I’m a young mother and I’m deeply concerned about what the future’s going to be like for my children, and what legacy we’re leaving behind for them,” said Day Neveau. “I feel that as a Anishinaabe person, I have the right and responsibility to speak up and say something about this treatment of mother nature.”
As a group, we talked about many water issues including the sewage that gets released into the St. Mary's river after heavy rains and groups like Northwatch that link empowered citizen and ecological groups together to protect air, lands, and waters. Candace brought a few friends with her who are also concerned and active about the state of the waters and one of them mentioned several times that people in the room need to use their privilege (when acting locally and talking to people with power) to help Indigenous leadership when protecting the sacred.
Next stop was Sudbury with our special guest, Bruce McComer. In his own words from this interview:
My name is Bruce McComber and I identify as Anishinabek or Indigenous. I have spent most of my life in the Sudbury and Manitoulin area. There has been a large core group of organizers for the Idle No More solidarity events in Sudbury -- it would be wrong of me to name any small number of people. I don't even really like being identified as an organizer. I am a supporter of human and environmental rights in general, and Idle appealed to me in this sense, so I did my best to help promote it.
Bruce told us about his background as an Idle No More organizer and his participation in various local environmental groups, such as Ramsey Lake Stewardship Committee. He talked about the impacts of past mining projects and the politics of new ones. He recommended "The Hole Story" -- a National Film Board documentary which looks at Canada's mining industry.
Once told in Catholic school that he was "Bishop material", Bruce was able to answer many questions about the state of the waters in and around Sudbury. While extremely knowledgeable and committed to protecting everyone's water, Bruce preferred to highlight the work of many other leaders such as the artwork of Christi Belcourt and Issac Murdock and the water advocacy of the young Autumn Peltier.
The third stop on this tour was in North Bay. Paul visited the Sisters in this house back in the spring and so it was good to revisit the Sisters and the shores of Lake Nipissing. Without a special guest speaker, Paul used the full 2 hours to unpack what the Blue Communities pledge is about, why it's important, and what we can do as a Federation.
Adding to the mix was a special note from Norma Peltier who went to school on these same grounds decades ago. Paul knows Norma through his Great Lakes work and asked her to send along a note for the Sisters. She wrote the following:
Sharing these words was a sweet moment. At the centre of the bottom right photo above, Norma is with Grandmother Josephine Mandamin, one of the strongest Anishinaabe leaders for the sacred water walks in the Great Lakes. We had just learned that she was admitted into the Thunder Bay hospital and so we watched this video about her and kept her in our prayers that day.
The presentation and discussion for all 3 events illustrated 3 common and key points:
Who of our water neighbours (locally and globally) were being denied the Human Right to Water.
How bottled water permits are approved in Ontario and the current campaign with Nestlé and Wellington Water Watchers.
The risks and negative consequences of selling off public water utilities to private corporations
Unlike most Blue Communities (which are cities and municipalities) the CSJ Blue Community is also reconciling its relationships to local watersheds and Indigenous nations. The Sisters can offer their leadership along with Indigenous water protectors (who are mostly women) since both communities respect water as a sacred gift.
As this project moves forward, we'll continue learning, sharing space with, acting in solidarity with First Nations on the issues of water access, management, and authority. Visit the Take Action page for more ways to participate.
Leave a comment to let us know your experience at one of these events or to follow up with a question or action.
By Paul Baines