By Jonathan Riley
They passed the little twisted stick two times round the circle.
Some held the stick in a tight fist, waved it like they were holding a sign of protest, punctuating passionate words; others twisted it slowly in their hands, playing with the red ribbons or feeling the wood grain and carvings, breathing deeply, speaking slowly, emotionally; others held the stick but a moment before passing it on.
Twice round went the talking stick; round the circle of 50 people, giving each person the chance to have their say, to tell a story, to give an opinion, to sing, to laugh and even to cry.
“There are no rules,” said Frank Meuse, chief of the Bear River First Nation at the opening of the circle. “We will listen, sing with you, laugh with you and cry with you, or just sit with you while you take a moment of silence.”
Twice round the circle, twice they listened and twice they talked, twice they sang and cried, each in their turn.
Bear River First Nations gathered Wednesday night, January 9 to show support for the Idle No More movement, and to begin to discuss what it could mean for their community and how they might participate.
Idle No More
Sparked by the hunger strike of Teresa Spence, chief of Attawapiskat and Bill C-45, a federal omnibus bill that removed protection from thousands of Canadian waterways, the Idle No More movement has spread via social media and flash mobs across the country and around the world to Europe, Australia, and the Middle East.
And it has even reached the little community in Bear River.
Many in the circle said they had come to listen and to learn, others explained who they were and why they supported the movement. Others questioned simply what was next.
Shalan Joudry is a community ecologist and storyteller from Bear River First Nations. She told the circle about her experiences at other Idle No More demonstrations in Nova Scotia.
She told about the traffic slowdown on Highway 102 near Millbrook, how the Mi’kmaq handing out information pamphlets were apologizing to the drivers they had held up for hours.
“I heard a comment that only in Canada would protesters be apologizing,” she laughed.
She said in the Yarmouth, Acadia First Nation members led a demonstration by marching along the road chanting, and then went into the mall to rally, speak, and do a Round Dance together, making people aware of the movement that way.
Talk About Change
“Here in Bear River we came together in a different way again, we invited members of the community to come and hear our stories and share theirs and to talk about what kind of change we want.”
“The first step is relationship building,” says Joudry. “Because we had people from outside the community here it was important to learn who are the people around the circle with us. The next step might come in the next circle or next week.
“People have a lot of questions: What do they want? Who’s in charge? What’s this about?” she said. “But Idle No More has no absolute centre, it is a grassroots movement and basically people want to make positive change for First Nations in Canada.”
Meuse says the ideals of Idle No More match those of the Bear River community.
“We have tried to protect the environment,” Meuse told the circle. “We’ve tried to figure out ways to live more naturally. We can do it; we may not do it the first time, it’s going to take practice but we can learn to walk a little softer on the earth.”
Doing Their Part
A recent energy audit of the Bear River First Nation found their homes use less energy per capita than any of the other 13 bands in Nova Scotia and they actually came in under the provincial average.
Meuse says Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation is actually using Bear River homes as a model across Canada for energy efficient housing construction.
They have also recently had about 1,000 acres of woodland certified with Forestry Stewardship Council) through the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute as sustainable forestry.
“Any wood products that come off that land will be internationally recognised as coming from a low impact woodlot,” said Meuse.
Meuse says the relaxation of environmental protection in Bills C-38 and C-45 should be a concern for all Canadians.
“There are going to be consequences to those changes,” said Meuse. “We’ve been trying to think about what it might mean for us here. It’s not that we are against development, but we are for nature and for protecting the earth.”
After three hours of passing the talking stick round, Meuse suggested they call it a night.
“I’m seeing some yawns, me included,” he said. “I think maybe it’s time to close this circle. But we are all a strand in the web of life and I know you’re going to go out and spread this to your circle. I don’t know who is in your circle and you don’t know who is in mine. So we don’t know where this circle will end.”
A few days after that circle close to a dozen members of the band took part in a demonstration in Halifax.
Nationally a day of action was planned for January 16 and an international day of action for January 28.
Meuse says Bear River is planning a weekend of sharing circles and workshops for Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 26 and 27.
“We want to invite the wider community to come and join us and talk about Bill C-45, how it will affect us, all of us,” says Meuse. “We want to hear what our neighbours are thinking about all of this too.”