(Marisela Amador The Eastern Door)
Months after the Kahnawake rail blockade that was erected in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en nation in BC came down, the sacred fire keeps burning.
Onowakohton Rusty Nolan, a land defender that was at the Adirondack Junction from the beginning of the blockade and was also present during the 1990 Oka Crisis, said they are still in contact with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs – although COVID-19 had quieted things down.
“In my eyes, the campsite at the green space (on Highway 132) is a lasting symbol of our resistance and our ability to rise up and stand as one for any issues that concern our people,” said Nolan.
“When we come together to support our people, the feeling of justice and pride stays long after the issue is resolved. Anyone knows our issues are never-ending with Canada,” he said.
On May 14, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs signed an agreement, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Federal and BC governments, which set out steps to prevent future conflict over resource development by recognizing that the traditional Wet’suwet’en governance system holds the right and title to their 22,000 square kilometres territory.
However, the elected band chiefs who were not consulted during the process have disputed the agreement and, as of late, are exploring a possible legal challenge.
“Because of this coronavirus, people are really scared, but they see us every day,” said fellow land defender and fisherman Eric “Dirt” McComber. “It was a big political thing to help the Wet’suwet’en, now they are at the table and have gotten where they have to be, and now, we stayed here, and we don’t want to leave,” he said.
Nolan explained that the campsite has become a sort of cultural hub where people come to exchange knowledge, stories and culture.
“What I am experiencing at the fire is something amazing,” said Nolan. “We have been dipping our toes in decolonization and learning who we are. So far, I’ve eaten many foods from the land that I never tried before. Goose, moose, deer, caribou, sturgeon, sunfish, dandelion tea, lemon ginger tea, fiddleheads and so on, just to name a few,” he said.
The two men said that although their numbers have gone down because of the pandemic, there are still a few people that come and visit the campsite.
“This is a symbol of our longstanding pride,” said Nolan. “When we have issues like this, we don’t just pack up and go. When the government puts pressure on us, we say let’s explore who we are, our culture, pick things up and learn and get involved. Something was born here.”
And how is social ditstancing achieved? According to Nolan, it is pretty easy outdoors.
“Chairs around the fire are six feet apart, everyone respects each other’s space and (there is) hand sanitzer on site at all times,” he said.
“There has been a core of six or seven people that are regulars at the fire since COVID, so we don’t really get anyone new here. (We are) very protected,” Nolan added.
McComber usually sells fish at the pow-wow, but since it was cancelled this year due to COVID-19, he wants to put up a stand at the campsite instead.
“All my food is wild,” said McComber. “I catch and harvest most of it. It’s time-consuming. People can’t wait for the pow-wow because I do certain things that nobody else does,” he said.
The men said that they would like to open a market and have also started planting a garden.
“We want people to come and be hands-on and learn a new skill. I make fishnets. We cut wood. I am going to smoke sturgeon here. I am going to make a smoker out of pellets,” said McComber.
McComber’s son River McComber is a teacher at Indian Way School and goes to the campsite to teach the language.
“We are learning about the different medicines, exercising, and some life skills. The fire is a place for everyone to come and relax, have great conversations, and to feel safe so we can re-energize ourselves,” said Nolan.
The men hope that the fire and campsite stay put because the knowledge and friendships they have found are too valuable to lose.
With the initial blockade of the train tracks and with COVID-19 limiting everyone else, the people who keep watch over the fire have become closer than they ever could have normally, bonded by two huge events that affected people far beyond Kahnawake’s borders.
“I would like to encourage support for the fire and participation. We need teachers to come to share knowledge so we can gather as much culture as we can.
“It’s working so far. I’m proud,” said Nolan.