Just one of the many canals cut in the bayou for the transport of oil by pipeline. (Photo Credit: Rob St. Pierre)
Day 5 of the 2018 Turtle Island Solidarity Journey was spent back at the Pointe-Aux-Chien Tribal Building. We had connected with the community and shared a meal with its members a few days earlier, but this time we returned to nurture the relationship we all share – our relationship with Mother Earth.
The morning began with getting our hands dirty in the community garden. Before our group prepared the soil to plant corn, Elders Chief Myeengun Henry and Seedkeeper Terrylynn Brant prepared us with a traditional tobacco ceremony. The corn we planted will provide a local, sustainable food source for the community.
Later in the afternoon, Chairman Verdin took some of us out on his boat into the bayou for some fishing, affording us the opportunity to participate in this customary activity of the Chairman and the people of Pointe-au-Chien. The experience also forced us to witness first-hand the impacts of not nurturing the important relationship between mother earth and people living on Turtle Island. The bayou has been altered at a frenetic pace due to the intrusion of salt water from the Ocean, accelerated by canals cut for pipelines and resulting in drastic land erosion from increasingly stronger hurricanes and storms.
Chairman Charlie Verdin and Seedkeeper Terrylynn Brant (Photo credit: Stephen Svenson)
The buffer that kept the bayou as it was is no more. Chairman Verdin spoke to our group, including Chief Henry, about how the bayou ecosystem has changed in his lifetime. Some remnants of the cypress and tupelo trees that lined the bayou waters remain; decaying tree trunks protruding from the water; trying to persist through the salt water that now envelopes their roots. Chairman Verdin is nostalgic about the days of better fishing in the bayou; along with more plentiful and diverse wildlife. He misses the time when communities formed right along the water. A couple of previous leaders of the tribe were once buried in one such community, their remains are now moved to higher ground and a cross is left to denote the original site of the burials.
Remnants of a bayou forest destroyed by salt-water intrusion. (Photo Credit: Rob St. Pierre)
Chairman Verdin’s words were a reminder to me that through this journey we are becoming united in our resistance against climate change, and particularly the way in which it is impacting the original inhabitants of Turtle Island, highlighting the need for settlers and Indigenous peoples to nurture the relationship with Mother Earth together against persistent environmental degradation. Nevertheless, we persevere, and are reminded of the importance of the work we do.
“Tant qu’il y aura le feu, nous irons, peu à peu”. – Jean Leloup
(While there is the fire, we go together, little by little.)
Just as important as putting in the work to build upon our relationship with Mother Earth is to commune together while doing so. Such experiences allow for us to conceptualize the significance of our work and learn from each other. We shared in a community feast of crawfish stew, étouffée (a classic Cajun dish) and corn chowder. After dinner, Haudenosaunee Elder and Seedkeeper Terrylynn Brant spoke to the whole group about the importance of eating and harvesting Indigenous plant varieties, and how doing so can lead our charge for sustainability in the face of pervasive problems like climate change and hunger.
As a message of thanks to the Pointe-au-Chien for hosting us, I performed a song in French to play before the members of the community gathered in the evening – Ballade à Toronto by Jean Leloup. I explained that for me, this song carries an important message of appreciating the beauty of nature, especially while traversing Turtle Island’s natural landscape on a road trip. Jean Leloup describes his love for the journey he makes with a love interest from Quebec to Toronto, as well as the importance of paying attention and respecting the natural world around us. As he professes in a spoken mid-song interlude, “le temps passe, et un jour, on est vieux et puis seul, et rien ne reste plus, que la fierté d’avoir aimé correctement, ou la honte et les torments, de ne pas avoir compris à temps”. It is our duty to love the Mother Earth properly, and to fail to do so in time is shameful.
Rob St. Pierre entertains the gathering at the Pointe-au-Chien Tribal building (Photo Credit: Stephen Svenson)
As an Acadian whose ancestors remained in New France following Le Grand Dérangement in the mid 18th century, and therefore were not relocated from the original colony to places like Louisiana, I imagine that the people who lived alongside my ancestors in Louisiana did exactly as Jean Leloup describes – they learned to properly love mother earth by living off the land, but in particular, also learning from and eventually uniting with the Chitimacha, Biloxi, and Choctaw when settling in this area. On a personal level, this journey is so important for me because it allows me to feel re-attached to my roots, and in the Acadian tradition, living alongside and in solidarity with Mi’kmaq and other original inhabitants of Turtle Island.
The Turtle Island Solidarity Journey is an important vehicle for all of us to rediscover our connection with one another, with the land upon which we live, and with ourselves as peoples responsible for nurturing relationships with the land.
Rob St. Pierre
Robert ‘Pipes’ St. Pierre is a veteran of three trips to New Orleans, having participated in Turtle Island Solidarity Journey 2016 and one other wetland restoration adventure where he subdued and half-devoured an alligator. Rob was specifically recruited for his capacity to drive long distances, his unique planting style, and finally his ability to endure the trip leader’s questionable sense of humour. Rob is a graduate of the Global Studies program at Wilfrid Laurier University and has a Master of Public Policy from the University of Toronto. He works as a policy analyst for Employment and Social Development Canada. In his spare time, Rob likes to play guitar and enjoys providing music entertainment for new friends and allies on the journey.
Thank you for joining us on our journey! You can follow along by liking our facebook page or by following us on twitter @turtleislandsol. You can also contribute to the journey by contributing to our gofundmepage where there are lots of cool perks from Anishinaabe artist Emma Rain Smith and John “Smitty” Smith, Lower Ninth Ward resident and author of Exiled in Paradise All funds will go to unforeseen trip costs, honorariums to the communities we meet, and to the production of visual media. These media will feature notable community organizers and indigenous leaders we meet throughout our journey speaking out on issues of environmental racism, climate change, and colonialism and inspiring us to take action to create a better world.
We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the WLU AUS (Arts Undergraduate Society), WLU Indigenous Initiatives and Services and St. Jerome's University as well as Commons Studio for their generous rate on camera equipment.
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