K’jipuktuk/Halifax – About 500 youth interested in climate justice from across unceded Wabanaki territory of Atlantic Canada and beyond gathered in Halifax/K’jipuktuk, Mi’kmaqi territory on the weekend of March 28-30 to listen to stories and advice from elders and seasoned organizers, strategize about a more just future and make friendships that will likely last a lifetime.
PowerShift Atlantic situated its gathering in the moment of local struggles against a push to frack for shale gas, drill in offshore waters and develop a pipeline to pump diluted bitumen across the country to Saint John.
Participants listened attentively to a stellar force of speakers including Crystal Lameman, Suzanne Patles, Winona LaDuke, Vanessa Gray, Jasmine Thomas and Amanda Lickers, indigenous women on the frontlines of resistance to dirty fossil fuel development on the Friday and Saturday nights of the gathering.
Crystal Lamean, a mother of two from Beaver Lake Cree Nation, Alberta, spoke of her community’s court case against the Canadian government for failing to follow through with the duty to consult with her Cree Nation on the over 17,000 permits and leases granted to big oil.
Suzanne Patles, a member of the Mi’kmaq Warriors Society, was one of many attacked during the Oct. 17th raid on those resisting shale gas near Elsipogtog. Patles argued for the normalizing of resistance and encouraged the audience “to find something that you are good at and do it.”
Mi’kmaq women and other indigenous women across Turtle Island surrounded Vanessa Gray, a youth activist from Aamjiwnaang First Nations in Sarnia, Ontario, when she was overcome with emotion while speaking. The Trent University student spoke through the tears to describe her home community and her work with ASAP–Aamjiwnaang + Sarnia Against Pipelines. “I will never leave my homeland because Shell Oil says I should. I will never give up,” said Gray.
“Thanks Harper for uniting the opposition,” said Jasmine Thomas who sang a song to honour Mi’kmaq’i before speaking. Thomas is an organizer for the Yinka Dene Alliance, an alliance of indigenous nations fighting the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline.
Stephen Thomas is a Halifax-based engineer and organizer with If You Build It, a group that builds solar and wind energy systems that power community projects. He showed pictures of the windmill that his group put up in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia. “My response to ‘you can’t build a sustainable future’ is ‘fuck you, I’m doing it anyway, and I’m bringing my friends,” said Thomas.
“I’ve gotta give a shout out to this monolith of destruction,” said Amanda Lickers while showing a picture of the Irving logo. Lickers, who works with Reclaim Turtle Island, shared hard truths of the impacts of settler colonialism. She drew attention to how agreements such as the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement signed between environmental non-governmental organizations and the forestry industry and those signed between Canadian mining companies and international non-governmental organizations ignore and affect indigenous resistance.
Prankster Sean Devlin, of ShitHarperDid.com, had a sobering message for the final keynote talk: “To do this work is to figure out how to fight while we grieve.” He opened his talk with a wallpaper of images of only some of the estimated 800 missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada. He ended his talk by sharing stories and pictures of his mother’s homeland in the Philippines devastated by a typhoon, the country’s first PowerShift gathering and the relationships being built between activists in Canada and the Philippines.
PowerShift participants had the opportunity to take part in 101 workshops on combating oppression, fracking, shale gas and food commodification, hear about environmental racism from Vanessa Gray and local poet El Jones, get skills on non-violent direct action by long-time labour organizer Tony Tracy and learn how to be an effective storyteller by PowerShift organizer Amara Possian.
The resistance building got creative with Beehive Collective members presenting their giant narrative murals, “Mesoamerica Resiste!” and “The True Cost of Coal.” Dave Bailey led a workshop where participants built a 15 foot fracking rig while banners were painted with messages against the Energy East pipeline. Both props were used two days later, on Monday, March 31, at a protest at the Maritimes Energy Association meeting in Halifax, where two Mi’kmaq women interrupted the Nova Scotia Energy Minister’s address to the oil and gas industry association.
According to PowerShift organizers, “We’ve felt the emergency and growth of resistance to the tar sands, fracking and pipelines, led by First Nations across Canada. We’ve watched the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline grow in the United States, and a global movement taking on fracking take off. Unions and workers are demanding green jobs and frontline communities are mobilizing against projects that threaten the land and water that affect their daily realities. There is a growing movement standing up against the fossil fuel industry and demanding a safe and just climate future.”
The first PowerShift gathering occurred at the University of New Maryland near Washington, D.C. in 2007. Over 6,000 young people from 50 states gathered there to demand environmental justice. PowerShift came to Canada two years later in 2009. Over 1,000 youth gathered in Ottawa to demand climate action. Between October 2013 and October 2015, six PowerShift gatherings are planned across Canada to grow the movement for climate justice and build skills and strategies for collective action.
Tracy Glynn is a writer and editor with the NB Media Co-op.