On Friday, October 3, I attended Nina Wilson’s lecture, at the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, on the rights of Mother Earth from a First Nations person’s perspective. Wilson is one of the co-founders of the Idle No More movement for the rights of native peoples to protect the lands and waters.
Though I’ve lived in San Antonio for a couple of years, I’d never been to the Esperanza building. As I walked up the stairs I saw a small concession stand selling melon, tacos, and aguas frescas near what looked like papier-mâché figures hanging from the ceiling. The smell of burning sage washed over me as a man offered the smoke to people to waft toward them. The room was filled with friendly faces, both locals and visitors passing through.
A First Nations man led us in a blessing—or what some might call a blessing, for lack of a better word. He and his family sang as he kept a rhythm on a hand drum. Wilson greeted us in her indigenous tongue, and the talk began.
Wilson discussed environmental issues that have affected First Nations people in southeastern Saskatchewan, Canada, and made them easy to understand for those not familiar with the topic. Big industries have come to the land with promises of more jobs and local funding and have in turn contaminated the water, polluted the air, and introduced illnesses related to nuclear waste and radiation. Wilson’s sincerity shone through as she spoke candidly about the issues, although this has made her a social pariah among her people.
Despite being ignored by some and judged by the elders, Wilson continues to speak out. “We need to appreciate what’s natural,” she said, and encouraged us to learn about the land’s history. This won’t repair the environmental damage, but it can help teach future generations that the earth is important and that we all have a responsibility to keep it safe. “I may not be a scientist,” she said, “but I know it’s all part of the process.”
Wilson discussed the origins of Idle No More, whose name refers to the movement’s founders’ need to do something to make a change in the world. She’s honest about the challenges of being an activist, in terms of both the emotional and the economic tolls. Nevertheless, she continues to take on the big industries that are using up resources in Canada and leaving people ill.
She sees a parallel between the damage done to earth and the abuse inflicted on women. “Earth is abused when our women are abused,” she said. “Our species won’t survive [without female leadership].” Her youngest child is already able to point out systematic racism when she encounters it—a leader in the making.
By the end of Wilson’s talk, the audience was feeling energized and ready to defend the rights of the earth, even if we’d be risking our good standing. “Truth is freeing,” Wilson said, “but it can be dangerous.”
Artwork from the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center.