This year’s Mi’kmaq water ceremony in Nova Scotia had a Hollywood addition, as Academy Award–nominated actor Ethan Hawke attended and voiced support for a 12-year moratorium on exploratory and other oil drilling in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The Paq’tnkek First Nation and the Mi’kmaq of Gespe’gewa’gi invited the actor, who has a house in the vicinity, to lend some star power to an issue that affects everyone. The Save our Seas and Shores Coalition was also on hand to join the First Nations in asking for a 12-year moratorium in the Gulf in order to allow enough time to conduct a full environmental assessment. In total, four First Nations groups from Nova Scotia and Quebec—the Paqtnkek, Listuguj, Gesgapegiag and Gespeg First Nations—came together to support the Mi’kmaq, CBC News said.
“Water is more valuable than oil. This water is our greatest resource,” Hawke told reporters, according to Globalnews.ca. “The one thing I can do as the one actor in the community is to sit next to really educated people who are working extremely hard to protect this beautiful water.”
More than 2,000 marine species spawn, nurse and migrate in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, according to the Canadian Press. Endangered whales also live there, and it’s among the most productive lobster region, the news wire said.
There is just one site being looked at for exploration so far, a place called Old Harry that could hold as many as two billion barrels of recoverable oil, according to CBC News. The Gulf of St. Lawrence’s shores touch Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, and the potential exploration area is halfway between the two, CBC News said. Government agencies have said that the company with the license to explore, Corridor Resources, will not do so without adequate consultation, The Chronicle Herald reported. The company said it can drill in a way that will not compromise the fragile ecosystem.
But the Mi’kmaq and their supporters said it’s a no-go.
"We trying to show the world that the Gulf of St. Lawrence is not available for oil exploration," said Troy Jerome, executive director of the Mi’gmawei Mawiomi Secretariat, to the Canadian Press. "It's a race to get oil as opposed to a race protect the environment. When you look at the state of the environment and climate change, I think we should be racing to protect the land where we can."
The water ceremony took place in Antigonish, on the same spot where in 1993 a Mbertou First Nation citizen sued after being stopped from exercising treaty rights to catch eels without a license. Donald Marshall Jr.’s winning ruling when he appealed the charges upheld his treaty right to catch and sell fish, The Chronicle Herald reported, setting a precedent nationwide for how First Nations people could hunt and fish.
Hawke told the assembled that he has seen firsthand what water misuse can do.
"My family settled in Texas at the turn of the last century, and if you've seen the water outside Galveston, you would weep. You would really weep," he said, according to CBC News, adding that he trusts the First Nations to be careful stewards.
"They've earned that right, not just by inhabiting these lands for thousands of years, but for the way they've cared for that land and the water," Hawke said. "I trust their judgment for what is best for this area, for the Earth, the land the people and the water."