Drums, celebration, dancing and tears filled Pictou Landing First Nation on Thursday morning as the community and its supporters celebrated the one-year mark until the Boat Harbour treatment plant will be closed.
Students from the Pictou Landing First Nation Elementary School shared their thoughts about Boat Harbour during the celebration and why they are excited to have the natural habitat return. Lots of talk about the harbour not smelling anymore and being able to fish, swim and play at the beach there were what most of the children were looking forward to.
“We wish we knew a life without Boat Harbour,” said Bailie Francis, 9. “We just don’t want Boat Harbour to pollute our community.”
Pictou Landing First Nation Chief Andrea Paul gave an emotionally charged speech about her community and what it means to everyone to have the deadline for the project be so close to the end.
“When they forced the effluent in our waters, that was a colonial act,” said Paul through tears. “Today and every day since then this community has worked so hard to bring (the harbour) back.”
She added that when the Boat Harbour treatment facility is shut down, the area will be known as A’se’k again, the traditional Mi’kmaq name for the waterway. Paul spoke about the tremendous amount of work and love the community put into the celebration to mark the one-year count down, including a memory wall that lined the back of the gymnasium that showed photos of community members who have died since the treatment facility opened, not because of the facility, but to bring them on the journey of healing with the community and have them be a part of the celebrations.
“We would be remiss not to have them here today,” said Paul. “To us, it’s 52 years we’ve carried this.”
Paul became quite emotional with happiness during her speech that the day is finally coming for the closure of the facility, and the end of the suffering for her community.
“I speak for all of the people … I carry all of the people of my community with me,” she said through tears. “We’re at a point where we’re going to get some closure from this.”
Paul stood on stage with her council members, before the crowd who had come to a hush, as she finished her speech with a rallying cry of sorts to bring hope for the next year.
“We’re going to stand there, we’re going to warrior up and we’re going to be celebrating together,” she said crying about the closure date.
When the community originally convened in the gymnasium to discuss the proposed agreement to have the treatment facility close in 2020, they ended their community discussion by having everyone hold hands and say a prayer. To end the celebration last week a round dance, with the entirety of the crowd holding hands, made circles inside one another around the gym while everyone danced together listening to the drumming of Smokey Point, the drum group for the ceremony.
The countdown celebration began with a round dance that saw three and four circles within each other around the gym. INSET: Bailie Francis takes her turn at the microphone explaining why she is excited to see the Boat Harbour treatment facility close. (Brimicombe photos)