Mi’kmaw elder leads Earth Day events in Kjipuktuk

Dorene Bernard, second from right, and friends with a giant owl puppet made of paper mache and fabric, at the Halifax waterfront on April 22, 2023/Photo by Crystal Greene

Mi’kmaw elder Dorene Bernard wants to raise awareness about climate change and its damaging effects to the environment.

“There’s more people awakened to the urgency about climate change, of the impact to the land and water,” Bernard said at an Earth Day celebration in Kjipuktuk (Mi’kmaw for Halifax) on April 22.

Bernard, a Mi’kmaw grandmother and a water walker who help stop the Alton Gas project near Stewiake, N.S., was invited to lead the Earth Day march from Sackville Landing to the nearby Peace and Friendship Park.

More than 800 people took part in the People’s Parade for Life on Earth which included displays such as giant forest animal puppets made of paper mache heads and fabric.

Elder Dorene Bernard opened the April 22 celebrations with a prayer and spoke of the water teachings she received from the late Josephine Mandamin, the original water walker/Photo by Stephen Brake

Bernard started the event with a prayer and then held a water ceremony just as groups lined up to start walking.

“It’s a celebration of Mother Earth … but also keeping in mind that there’s a lot of destruction still happening, where we have one victory, like Alton Gas, yet there’s other things that’s coming about that warrant just as much attention,” Bernard added.

“Crucial time for our planet” – Joanna Bull

Joanna Bull, a community engagement coordinator with the Ecology Action Centre, worked with Bernard to organize this year’s Earth Day event.

Bull said working with “folks who aren’t always around the table” in mainstream, environmental organization spaces is important.

“We’re in a difficult time right now, such a crucial time for our planet … it’s more important than ever to connect with that joy and celebration,” Bull said.

Joanna Bull, the community engagement coordinator for the Ecology Action Centre was one of the lead visionaries of the 2023 Earth Day event, along with Dorene Bernard/Photo by Stephen Brake

Both Bull and Bernard are concerned that without action, worldwide temperatures will rise beyond what the 1.5 degree Celsius “threshold” can allow before a climate catastrophe happens, a recommendation made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2018.

IPCC said greenhouse gas emissions must drop to 50 per cent by 2030 and carbon zero by 2050. It is to the biodiversity crisis, as species are becoming extinct or at risk in Mi’kmak’i through deforestation and other extractive industries.

“We have been the caretakers of this land” – Zachary Paul

“I haven’t been to many Earth Days before but this is the first one that Indigenous People, us L’nu, led the parade … it’s a good show of a shift that’s happening,” said Zachary Paul, a water walker and protector from Membertou First Nation.

“We have been the caretakers of this land … there’s a reason why all four colours of man are on Turtle Island right now … many of them have forgotten their teachings, they were meant to protect and to learn from us,” Paul said.

Zachary Paul, a water walker from Membertou First Nation once occupied the Treaty Truckhouse at Windsor Causeway to bring awareness for a sustainable solution to protect the fish and water at the causeway/Photo by Stephen Brake

Wayne Toney, an elder from Annapolis Valley First Nation, said he is concerned about current farming practices, including the use of herbicides.

“The herbicides they use for farming are poisoning our rivers … why did we let it get to this state?” he said.

“Our voices matter, we’re trying to rekindle that love and connection on a deeper level with these climate movements … for long our voices have been brushed aside,” said Helena Lewis, 21, from Eskasoni First Nation.

“We gotta recognize Earth Day because she’s Mother Earth, she provides for us every single day, she gives us land, she gives us water, yes, water is life,” said Marian Nicholas a water walker and member of the Grassroots Grandmothers Circle.

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About Crystal Greene 2 Articles
Crystal Greene (she/her) is Anishinaabe and Cree. She was born and raised in Winnipeg and has travelled extensively throughout Turtle Island. Crystal is graduating from the University of King's College with a Bachelor of Journalism degree in May 2023.