When Hannah Martin stood up in the House of Commons to address the prime minister over Indigenous rights, she says she never had anything formally prepared.
The Mi’kmaw woman didn’t need to.
“Even though I didn’t prepare formally for it I had been preparing throughout my undergrad with the kind of work I have been doing as an Indigenous studies student,” said Martin, who is set to graduate from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. with an honours degree.
“As Indigenous studies students, every day we kind of discuss this idea, if you had the opportunity to do something like this and address an issue, with that kind of power and weight, what would you say to a leader.”
Martin told Justin Trudeau, on April 2 in the House of Commons, he can’t call himself a feminist if he continues to allow companies to “rape the land” of its resources.
“In that moment I really did feel the power of generations behind me come out through that speech,” she said.
Video clips of her speech spread across the Internet in what was an event called Daughters of the Vote, where nearly 340 young women from across the country took the seats of politicians for the day in the House of Commons.
Trudeau addressed the crowd and heard from some of the women.
“You cannot be a feminist if you are allowing corporations to rape the land, because as Indigenous peoples that is our mother. That is not a myth. That is not a legend. That is not a belief. That is fact. That is truth to us. She is our mother,” Martin told Trudeau.
She was referring to Indigenous rights as a whole but also what’s unfolding on the East Coast with Alton Natural Gas Storage, a resource development company.
Days after her speech, three Mi’kmaw grandmothers were arrested fighting Alton Gas in Nova Scotia.
The Mi’kmaq occupied a camp at the entrance to the Alton site since 2017.
And Mi’kmaw grandmothers maintained a steady presence there since a temporary court injunction was issued in March.
For years many Mi’kmaq have opposed the project that Alton plans to use water from the Sipekne’katik River to create large, underground storage caverns that would require dumping salt brine into the river. Protesters fear the 73-kilometre tidal river, which cuts through the middle of Nova Scotia, may be polluted.
Martin is from the traditional, unceded territory of Taqamiju’jk in Nova Scotia is a member of Millbrook First Nation.
She has been heavily involved in Indigenous rights while at McMaster and recently returned from the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, where she helped draft resolutions with a focus on the importance of traditional knowledge.
But that begins with the land.
“You can’t address the protection, transmission or generation of traditional knowledge without addressing, protecting our lands, territories and resources. So the conversations around nation to nation relationships have to come back to this, because our knowledge is within the language and language is intertwined with the land. We can’t practise our traditions and ceremonies, our language and ways of life and being without access to that land,” said Martin.
“I think that has to be at the very heart and spirit of the conversation around nation to nation relationships, is returning that land because everything else is inherently connected to the land.”
Nation to Nation also interviewed University of Toronto researcher Andrée-Anne Fafard St-Germain. She looked at the effectiveness of the Nutrition North program in 10 Nunavut communities.
Nutrition North is supposed to make it cheaper to buy perishable foods in Canada’s territories.
Ottawa says the cost of a basket of groceries had dropped five percent and the weight of items shipped north had grown by 25 per cent since the program began. But Fafard St-Germain discovered that didn’t translate into more accessibility to food.
“So we don’t see that more people are able to afford and access food, we see the opposite,” she said. “So even though more food is supposed to be shipped to these communities, we see more and more people telling us that they can’t put food on the table because they don’t have the money for it.”
Food insecurity affected one third of all families in 2010. By 2014, one full year after Nutrition North had been implemented, that number had grown to 47 per cent.
Fafard St-Germain’s study doesn’t explain why the figure for food insecurity is growing. But she doesn’t believe Nutrition North should be scrapped and replaced.
“What’s the next step? What kind of actions do we need to really have a meaningful impact on reducing those rates of food insecurity,” she said. “So going beyond Nutrition North or beyond a food subsidy, what is needed in those communities to reduce the rates of food insecurity in a way that’s sustainable and meaningful.”