May Day celebration in Saint John targets Irving

Written by Gregory M. Cook on May 3, 2019

Celebrating May Day in Saint John in front of Irving Oil headquarters, 2019.
Photo by Leap4ward.

Irving Town, better known as Port City Saint John, was host to more than 100 people on the first day of May 2019 for a traditional celebration of spring’s natural regeneration of life. Several musical instruments and singers mellowed the stomp of “boots on the ground.” The celebrants also carried signs and banners demanding that J.D. Irving Ltd. (JDI) stop spraying the forest and start paying taxes.

Wolastoqewi Grand Chief spasaqsit possesom Ron Tremblay welcomed the gathering to the traditional Wolastoqiyik unceded territory in the Wabanaki Confederacy. He declared that JDI, as with other forestry firms and the New Brunswick government, were law breakers. He was backed up to complete the three-hour demonstration by Beverley Perley, Wolastoq Grandmother, who spent much of winter a year ago at the Wolastoq Mothers and Grandmothers camp resisting Northcliff’s plans to extract tungsten and molybdenum near Stanley.

Grand Chief Tremblay cited the Mascarene’s Treaty of 1725/26 Article 5: “That if any Indians are Injured by any of his Majesty’s Subjects or their dependants, they shall have Satisfaction and Reparation; made to them, According to his Majesty’s Laws whereof the Indians shall have the Benefit Equal with his Majesty’s other Subjects.”

To the delight of the children present, the Kings Square bandstand setting was colourfully decorated with a May Pole designed by Leland Wong- Daugherty of South Knowlesville. Artist Jerry LeBlanc, of Rogersville, provided double bed sheets painted with a running deer and a standing moose in a gas mask, as well as large 2×4 foot “Stop Spraying” signs.

Wong-Daugherty, co-partner of a Waldorf school in Knowlesville, gave an impassioned speech to ask the audience to grow their food and undertake all the necessary and traditional ways of pre-consumer dependency on corporate food producers, as they move through climate change resistance and system change. 

Most participants contributed a variety of creative posts and banners, along with flowers, food, water, pots and spoon noise makers, drums, violin and festive dress of wildlife and fauna figures of species endangered by spraying glyphosate. The group was an improvisation of activists from Grand Manan, Restigouche West, Fredericton, Kegwick, Rogersville and Aulac.  

“The Mount Carleton area, considered the third largest syrup producer in the world, is one of the regions most sprayed in the last five years, killing one of our major regional economies while also destroying wildlife habitat,” said Francine Levesque, a member of EcoVie from Restigouche West, in her presentation in French.

Glyphosate, a Monsanto herbicide product in the tradition of DDT, Agent Orange and a growth hormone, is being used globally by corrupted governments and their agencies in farming and gardening as well as forestry. Glyphosate is being roundly denounced by health and environmental experts, including in some courts where nearly 12,000 suits have been filed.

One company was responsible for spraying 7,000 hectares of unceded “Crown” land in the summer of 2017, of which 577 hectares were near lakes. An estimated 28 percent of all forest spraying in Canada happens in New Brunswick.          

The product has now been purchased by Bayer (makers of Aspirin) at a moment when the planet is threatened with extinction and when deforestation accounts for more than 20 percent of climate change.

Maurice Violette, also a member of EcoVie, told the group that some 35,000 people have signed a petition against spraying the forest but the government has so far failed to provide a constructive response.

In use for 50 years around the globe, it kills many plant species, Violette said, “Today it is found in many of the foods we eat and almost all of us have it in our bodies.” Diseases linked to exposure to glyphosate include non-Hodgkin lymphoma – for which  two men received tens of millions of dollars in a US lawsuit – autism, Alzheimer and many unexplained human and animal diseases.

Violette added that “some research is showing that glyphosate has a serious effect on our micro-biome, our natural gut bacteria, our brains and may even affect the reproduction code and the DNA.” The speaker reminded the gathering that we lost our chief medical officer in 2015, while she was intending to further explore glyphosate, and asked “Now who would benefit from that move, and who actually benefits from spraying?”

“This industrial player has coerced and blackmailed our governments, ever pushing their needs for more forest, for less and less property taxes, paying little or no taxes on their many ventures,” Violette added.

He singled out the Irving media monopoly as “standing in the way of real information to the public by omission of the truth and clear propaganda,” adding: “This must change. We ask the major user of this poison to join us in this fight, or be nationalized and sold to pay for the debt amounting to the legal but unpaid moral taxes since their move to tax haven.”

“Shame! No More,” and other words were chanted by the crowd.

The Executive Director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, Lois Corbett, called out Premier Blaine Higgs, like previous governments, for ignoring the 35,000 signatures to stop spraying asking, “How many more will it take” before democracy is seen to be working in New Brunswick.

The May Day event co-host, Jenna Ross, said: “I’m standing up against Irving because I want them to stop poisoning us.” Co-host of the event with Ross, Jean Arnold of South Knowlesville said that she had invited JDI’s Jim Irving or his spokespersons to appear and listen as well as speak.

Most of the group gathered were led twice in marches on King’s Square to pose for cameras at the new International Headquarters of Irving Oil and then marched to the JDI Headquarters at 300 Union Street. Some people were seen entering and leaving the Irving Oil building or looking out windows, as Perley spoke.

Qey! Welcome Everyone, to the Wolastoqiyik Territory; Lands rightfully inherent to indigenous people.

I would like to open by saying J.D. Irving operates illegally within unceded territory. That their lethal ways of creating billions of dollars for their own selfish needs, are resulting in catastrophic environmental conditions. Them, and companies alike, along with the government have been calling the shots for far too long.  They raped our lands and condemn our children to a hopeless future.

We all have a responsibility to our mother earth; I, as a Wolastoq Woman; you as inhabitants of Wolastoqiyik Territory; and we as human beings. I am here today because it is my obligation as a Wolastoq Woman, and Grandmother, to protect the innate and inherent rights that are bestowed upon us by our Creator.

The anger that earlier in the day seeped into joyous celebration was heightened under the brass lettering of 300 Union Street. The children, some dressed as salmon or black bear, who had joined the leaders of the earlier marches picked up their elders’ distress.

Beverley continued:

We have the innate right to live freely upon our mother earth
We have the inherent right to live here in our territory
And we have the treaty right to live in our ways, peacefully
As People of Wolastoqiyik Territory
This is your home.
This is your children’s future and this is your time to take accountability for the environment you reside in
And as inhabitants of this planet, it is our responsibility to uphold treaties with our other nations.

The Four legged
The Sky nation
The Water and the nation that lives within it
And the standing ones, the Trees

Yesterday, is when we needed to start to take action, but today we have the opportunity. We as people need to fulfill our responsibilities and protect the environment. We as citizens need to stop waiting for the government and companies, like Irving Oil, to have a change of heart and we need to change it for them. We need to make our presence known. We need to make our demands met. We need to take action now!

I will leave you this a quote I came across by Margaret Mead: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’ Stay strong. Stay committed. And stay angry. Because this is our future.

Some business-suited men coming and going throughout the action showed embarrassment, disapproval – both rooted in fear of who they are, or the fear of what was happening. Most passers-by paused, joined in and applauded.

The leadership and those who signed up are debriefing and strategizing future actions.

The NB Media Co-op supported a video made of the May Day event, The People vs The Irving Dynasty that can be viewed from our website.

Gregory M. Cook is a poet and biographer.

(This story was updated May 7 to correct the name of the designer of the May Pole.)

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