This week’s powerful episode “Stewards of the Land” takes a hard look at the meaning of, and connection to, the land that Indigenous cultures innately have. It also examines the threats to traditional lands that exist in today’s society in the never ending quest for progress. Waneek Horn-Miller reminds viewers that this is not an Indigenous movement but a human movement, “that we do not drink separate water, or breath separate air, we have to live here together, and our children are going to inherit this.”
During my interview with season three series director Michelle Smith, she named this episode as one of her favourites. “This episode is such an empowering story of community coming together in order to block uranium mining on Cree territory.”
We visit Eastmain, James Bay, an area considered rich in uranium, and follow Jamie Moses as he takes his son Joshua out on the traditional lands in order to pass on his hunting and trapping skills. Jamie and his son provide the human context for this story. We also follow Jamie’s compelling testimony at Quebec’s Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) hearings, held in 2015, that explored the possible impact of uranium mining on Cree Territory.
Traditional Anishnaabe Story-Teller Isaac Murdoch discusses the balance that the Indigenous peoples had with the land. They held a preservationist philosophy whilst the settlers considered the land as a commodity to exploit. This meant that the Indigenous beliefs so enmeshed with the land needed to be destroyed as they interfered with the harvesting of resources for the sake of progress. “When you don’t believe that the water has a spirit or that a tree has a spirit you are able to cut it down,” and it becomes easier to rape the land of its riches. The process of colonization sought to destroy this connection but the need protect the land has acted as the impetus to reconnect with culture.
Shawn and Ashley Iserhoff, leaders in the fight against uranium mining, discuss the engagement of the Cree in their fight to deny uranium mining in Mistissini. They believe that the people today need to make responsible decisions in order to ensure future generations will have the ability to enjoy the land as their ancestors once did. Ultimately it was the overwhelming involvement of the youth that voiced their concerns for their future that united the community in this latest battle. Because the Cree were so diligent in their fight to deny uranium exploration on their traditional lands, the BAPE Commission voted to deny future exploration not only on Cree territory, but within all of Quebec.
It was the following statement by Isaac Murdoch that truly resonated with me: “As characters in this sacred story, what is our next move? Do we do something? Do we sit back and watch? Or do we try to be heroes?” We have to unite, and we have to be strategic in our approach to government, and then we can make a difference. It is Jamie Moses’s belief, passed to him from his grandfather that the people keep the traditions alive but also adapt to the modern ways; use the best of both worlds as you move forward in a good way.