"You can't drink the oil,
you can't eat the money"
First Nations Women to the Nobel Women's Initiative Delegation
Condensed by Native Village
British Columbia: In 1997, Jody Williams won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work to ban land mines. To Williams, peace is security. Not national security, but human security, where people have what they need, like clean food and water.
Williams sees the Nobel Peace Prize platform as a way to amplify the voices of women fighting industries that put these things at risk. She recently visited Canada with a six-woman delegation to tour communities affected by the oil sands and the Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal.
Kandi Mossett of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nations of North Dakota, is part of that delegation. Mossett works for the Indigenous Environmental Network.
"Women are water keepers," she said. "So they are often the first to understand what is going on."
Mossett found that the First Nations impacted by oil sands projects had not given "free, prior and informed consent." Such consent is required under the UN's Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Canada signed.
Then they broke it. Canada's idea of consulting with tribes was "paying them to attend a picnic, and then being asked to pose for a picture," Mossett said. "The result of these projects was that people couldn't even use the water in Fort McKay for five months. Mothers couldn't bathe their children."
Both Mossett and Williams were heartened by the spirit of the women they spoke with. "These were warrior women with their fists in the air saying they will stop the Northern Gateway Pipeline and, ultimately, the tar sands," Mossett said.
Williams said, "I wanted to stand up and cheer every time I heard a grandmother, sometimes next to a daughter nursing a granddaughter, stand up and say, `It will not happen.' Not `we hope we can stop this,' but `we will lay down in front of the bulldozers and we will not let them pass. These women were not joking.' In Williams' words, "They will drive a stake through the heart of the tar sands."
Mossett spoke about food security impacts as a result of oil sands pollution.
"People still heavily rely on subsistence lifestyles," she said. "The moose have huge pustules that they are cutting off and then they aren't sure if they should eat the meat. Ten percent of the fish pulled out of the Athabasca River have some time of tumor or cancer or double jaw."
Climate change is impacting food supply on traditional territories as well. "The moose are supposed to be big and fat right now but they are not. They're not healthy." Mossett also noted that plant ripening times were changing.
"Women told me that they used to pick three kinds of berries in succession and now they all come ripe at the same time." Women also spoke of unusually low winter temperatures and low water levels.
Williams was stunned that the Canadian government called these women eco-terrorists and enemies of the state for trying to protect their traditional territories.
"These women are standing up to protect what the government should be protecting and then I hear from them that they have been called conspirators, eco-terrorists, enemies of the state. And I think, `This is Canada? This woman with a walker is an enemy of the state? All of these communities and all of these people are enemies of the state?' I would say that the state is the enemy of the people it is supposed to protecting."
Village © Gina Boltz
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