On a Saturday morning in early May in the sleepy bayside village of Cacouna, mist floats dreamily in the broad skies and winds of the St. Lawrence River. We wake from our sleeping bags at a youth centre to share a soup breakfast before the longest walk of our lives – 34 days, 700 kilomtres, Cacouna to Kanehsatà:ke.
We are La Marche des Peuples pour la Terre Mère (The March of the Peoples for Mother Earth) and our numbers vary between 50 and 70. After a press conference and an Indigenous smoke ceremony, the food and luggage is loaded in cars and bicycle “chariots” and the march begins, banners in hand and songs in the air.
We marched as a statement against Energy East, a proposed $12 billion chain of pipelines spanning Canada from the notorious tar sands of Alberta to ports in Quebec and New Brunswick. This would be the largest individual crude-oil pipeline in North America and it would dramatically scale up Canada’s oil sands industry by 40%, a daily 1.1 million barrels of dirty bitumen, mostly for foreign export. The project is proposed by Transcanada, the same company behind the infamous Keystone XL Pipeline, a project that NASA scientists say would mean game over for the Earth’s climate.
Across the St. Lawrence River from the famous whale-watching village of Tadoussac, Cacouna is a deep-sea port where oil-shipping facilities will be constructed adjacent to a rare beluga whale nursery. Seismic activity and geotechnical drilling is occurring this spring during the belugas’ calving. It’s like mining next to a hospital maternity ward.
As an act of defiance to this significant expansion of Canada’s petroleum industry, we are marching along the proposed route of the pipeline, from Cacouna through the cities of Rivière-du-Loup, Quebec City, Trois-Rivières and Montreal to the Mohawk community of Kanehsatà:ke. We are speaking to communities, doing performances, hearing from locals and engaging with media to build the citizen campaign Coule pas chez-nous (Don’t Spill at Our Place).
We are like nomads, living by the swing of the sun and the flow of the river, eating the food that we carry. Cars honk in support and our conversations stretch out like the road before us.
The march has had strong involvement and support from the First Nations and Métis peoples. Traditional prayers and lectures from Elders have been offered at various places. We have also been generously supported with accommodation by community centres, Cegeps, schools and churches. One night in a women’s centre, another night below the cathedral of Trois-Rivières, another by a farm campfire under a full moon.
Regular public performances featured a variety of slam poetry, theatre, guitars, singing and circus. A common feature is the poetry and song of Natasha Kanapé Fontaine, an Innu from Pessamit who is an important spokesperson and organizer of the march.
Ever present with the march has been the natural beauty of Quebec along the St. Lawrence, where sea and river wrestle between the Appalachian and Laurentian mountain ranges and the tides turn to the moods of Grandmother Moon. It is a place where whales famously come to birth and clouds of uncountable geese pass by on their epic Arctic migration. I have seen a beaver, a frog, a fox, and even an owl. Horses excitedly gallop at our passing and a falcon followed us in Kamouraska.
Such natural beauty has been a reminder of what is at stake, of what is being defended. So too has been the countless stories of the people who live along the river – farmers in their fields, tractors on the roads, people in their gardens or driving to work or eating in outdoor terraces. They pause for a second and stare as quotidian village life is punctured by this traveling circus, singing, smiling, youthful.
The march will reach Kanehsatà:ke on June 12. From there, we will march to Ottawa from June 15-22.
More information: www.peuplespourlaterremere.ca