Air, Fire, Water, Earth, Spirit: Tamarack Verrall summons the elements in her plea for environmental healing for her native Canada—and for our planet.
We are connected to her. We are life giving as she is. We are protective, as she is. We are in danger, as she is. We are surviving the impossible, as she is.
In the past 100 years, the temperature has risen .7 degrees Celsius. In the past 50 years, in the Canadian Arctic, it has risen 2-3 degrees. We know that rockets emit chlorine gas into the atmosphere, destroying ozone, and that over 500,000 pieces of debris are orbiting around the Earth. The air in our cities and around factories is increasingly polluted. Large industry is 50% to blame, along with car emissions, all fossil fuels, wood smoke—and we all breathe in the results. In Canada, lung and heart disease from air pollution are increasing. Each year there are about 21,000 premature deaths, 92,000 emergency hospital visits, 620,000 visits to doctors, according to the Canadian Medical Association. Despite living in a wild and unpopulated country, too many of us cannot breathe.
She cannot speak. She cannot breathe. She is gagged, silent, imprisoned, rendered unconscious, tortured, brought to the brink of death. Her words are disbelieved. Her mother’s words are mocked. Her grandmother’s words are dismissed. She tries to speak again. She is raped and murdered. Her sisters carry on her stories. Nothing can silence us. The beauty of our sisters catches our breath. What we know propels our voices. Our voices become stronger and more determined with every story we hear. It becomes impossible to silence us. We are unstoppable. This is the time for our visionary instruction to take hold.
My beloved earth is choking, gasping, spitting out hurricanes and tornadoes, and still able to send delicate breezes, wind whispering through the trees, “I love you, I love you”, and we sing back to her, “We love you, we love you. We are here to take care of you.”
This past year forest fires raged across the western half of Canada. There are fires every year, but, this year, dry, rainless winds pushed fire over drought stricken land. When storms did come, lightning struck tinder-dry trees. Thousands of people were evacuated to safety. Smoke was in the air from Manitoba through to the west coast. It was impossible to see across a one-mile wide lake.
My sister’s face was burned with acid. Her spirit was not broken. She knows that she is loved. My sister had gasoline poured over her. She was outspoken. She has been murdered. Our mother was tossed on a funeral pyre. We grab her back to safety. Her years as a wise old crone are respected and welcome. We bring her gifts in thanks for all she is. We mourn the loss of those we could not save.
My beloved earth is scarred by flames, but some wild seeds have survived. She knows how to push through these scars the most exquisite little ferns and baby trees. She survives this devastating moment. We celebrate her ability to survive.
In Canada, we hold 20% of the world’s drinkable water. Our country spans from the Atlantic Ocean, to the Arctic Ocean, to the Pacific Ocean. We have an estimated 2 million lakes, and our rivers carry 7% of the world’s renewable water. When I was a young girl, we would camp every summer and drink from the lakes. In 1978, 2739 liters of toxic coolant leaked from a nuclear plant into the Winnipeg River. A second leak happened in 1980. In 1992 “heavy water” (radioactive waste), 23 trillion becquerels (units of radioactivity) were spilled into Lake Ontario. In 1994,185 tons of nuclear waste spilled into Lake Ontario. Tritium was found in the drinking water in Toronto, one of our largest cities.
In our North, icebergs are melting. Ocean currents carry toxic chemicals everywhere. The marine animals are sick and dying. Glaciers have always lived along the spine of the Rocky Mountains of Canada, from north to south. This summer, as I travelled through these mountains, so many of the glaciers I have walked on, now gone. The ice-packed peaks with pure river water flowing down the sides are now rare, most unprotected now, bare grey rock, reflecting heat.
And now, deep sonar blasts are being set off in the Arctic Ocean, to map the ocean floor. The whales go deaf, and die. There is pressure to send another pipeline into the Atlantic Ocean, right to the nursery of our Beluga whales.
Then there are the mines. More than 20 minerals are mined, including uranium, nickel, silver, copper, lead, graphite, gold, and diamond. In 2014 mine waste leaked into Polly Lake, which emptied into the rivers. One quarter of Indigenous Peoples’ communities in Canada do not have drinkable water. The government claims to be “helping them with their problems”. People are boiling water. People are getting sick.
We are crying. We are crying in pain. We are crying in terror. We are crying in frustration. We are crying from what is being done to our sisters, our mothers, our daughters. We are crying for every woman and girl searching desperately for safe water. We are crying for every beating, every rape, every murder. We wail, we scream, we cry oceans of tears that heal us from all we have survived, from all we have witnessed, from all we feel for every girl and every woman being tortured this very day. How loudly must we wail, how unbearably full of pain, how deep an ocean of tears must be shed before we are strong enough, believed enough, respected enough to be able to dry our eyes, knowing that every one of us is finally safe and free.
My beloved earth, her tears, her gentle rains, her downpours, her torrents become flash floods. She rages as she must, wrestling with the violence being done to her, calling this state of emergency, still finding ways to move her water to cleanse and to heal. We cry for her, we cry with her, we bathe in her, we drink deeply.
Canada is one of the largest countries, and one of the least populated. Most of us live as far south as we can be, the warmest we can get, to survive our cold winters. Indigenous, Aboriginal, First Nations Peoples live throughout this land. All along the south, and spread out throughout the north. Holding onto traditional lands. Land that in the beginning was not owned, that was and remains, home. The land now has vast areas shorn of its trees. The Federal Government continues to erode protections for forests and waterways with wording sleights of hand. “Navigable Waters Protection Act” renamed “Navigation Protection Act”. Illegal seizure of land promised to Indigenous Communities. Mining has left areas destroyed, carcinogenic waste buried in shallow, leaking graves.
The oil sands in Alberta have left a glaring ugly wound in the earth. Spills have largely been recorded by indigenous peoples living nearby. In 1980, 54,000 barrels of oil spilled. The Government Regulator stated that nothing had flowed into the water. In July 2015, 5,000 meters of emulsion (bitumen and sand waste) leaked into an area the size of two football fields. There is an attempt to scrape up the gooey mess.
Farmers have been forced off land. Small farms rendered impossible financially, as land is bought by GMO companies, pressuring farmers to take the “modern” road. The western prairies have been largely taken over by GMO Canola crops. Tons of carcinogenic chemicals poured on the earth yearly. Pesticides and herbicides. Butterflies disappearing. Bees losing their memory and dying, unable to find their ways home. Seeds infertile, or having to be bought exclusively from companies who believe in modifying, patenting, owning seed. No longer natural. Free of labeling. No chance to track the effect of these poisons. Land previously farmed with variety, now barren.
Her baby is born stillborn, her baby girl is killed at birth, her baby is taken away at birth, she dies trying to give birth. She is alive but barely. Her body is being beaten, her bones broken, her skin cut, her delicate insides, source of all life, ravaged, torn apart, raped, used up in cruel, incomprehensible selfishness, not one time, but over and over, every day, by one man, by many men at once. She, her body has been stolen, is held captive to this daily torture. We are trying to find her. We will not stop, we will not be satisfied until every one of us is free.
My beloved earth is being ravaged for the greed of wealth, with no care, no second thought for how this feels to her. Her wounds are as real as ours. We lovingly place our hands on her ground, wrap our arms around her trees, whisper, cry out, sing to her that we will never stop protecting her.
In 2003, indigenous grandmothers began to walk around each of the Great Lakes for protection and healing.
In November 2012, four First Nations women and one non-native ally created the “Idle No More” movement. As the Government attempts to remove protections of Canada’s wild and protected lands, thousands of women and men have joined in. They have set up barricades across roads and bridges to stop the pipelines east, west, and south. They have refused entry to oil companies. A group of Cree youth walked 990 miles (1600 kilometers) from the far north to demonstrate in front of Federal Government buildings.
A Council of Women has formed to protect Turtle Island, the name of this land before it was called Canada and USA.
As women, we speak out strongly. We find each other. We are aware of each others’ voices, of each others’ abilities to believe that what we envision is possible, and essential. We are coming together through World Pulse, through WECAN International, through a strong unbreakable web that we are carefully and lovingly weaving together. We need our air to continue to conspire. We need our fire to focus our righteous rage. We cry healing tears with each other. Our spirits are uniting to save our precious earth, for each other, and for all who will be the seventh generation.
About this Story
World Pulse partnered with WECAN International to crowdsource stories about gender and climate justice. Over the next month, in the lead up to the COP21 climate talks in Paris, we will be highlighting select voices on this urgent topic. Stay tuned!