Posted by: rosemary | November 2, 2009

The Element of Choice

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Fearless organizer and tireless marathoner Chris Scott poses at the end of the line: the Romaine River

(November 1st) They say that the longest journey starts- and finishes- with a single step. Throughout the six weeks, and over the fifteen hundred kilometers we covered during the “Run for our Rivers” marathon, the concept of endings mostly remained abstract. We realized that there was a point to be reached, and a message to be delivered, but we did not really internalize the fact that one morning we would no longer be getting up to provide support to runners, and that one day we would, inevitably, reach the final lap, the final kilometer, the final step.

It is fair to say that over the six weeks of our odyssey the significance of the event grew on us, and one of the things I remember from running my own marathon was the feeling of how easy it would be to give up. When you are alone on a country road with only a driver or a small team behind you, it seems so inviting to give in to the grinding pain that begins to gnaw at you after kilometer, say, thirty-five. And if you continue despite the temptation, it is because you see some individual or collective gain, some tangible enrichment of our quality of life that is to be had for protecting a portion of our province’s incredible wild spaces. And it is also because you recognize that a political battle, like a marathon itself, is long and arduous, and that, as in a marathon, the qualities of vision, exertion and relentlessness are our surest guarantors of success.

In total, there were twenty-eight of us, runners and walkers, women and men, athletes of all backgrounds, to carry the letter written by Cree hunter Roger Orr across the province of Quebec. And, as one of the organizers, it fell to me on Monday, October 19th, to relay the message over the last leg into the Innu community of Ekuanitshit, that stands a few kilometers from the Romaine.

I remember balancing the “talking stick” between my fingers, traversing the towns of Rivière-Saint-Jean and Longue-Pointe, and catching an occasional glimpse of the sea-like Saint Lawrence with large islands spread against the horizon. It was a testimony to how far we had come that a thirty-two kilometer hike seemed such a short distance now. I walked for most of the afternoon, and there were a couple stars pointing above the evergreens when I rounded a bend in the highway and came within sight of the streetlights of Ekuanitshit.

I knew I was to deliver the message to Rita Mestokosho, an Innu poet and Band Council woman who had spent most of the past year fighting the proposed dams along the Romaine River, which forms the core of Ekuanitshit’s traditional hunting ground. But I did not know exactly where Rita’s house was, and it was by serendipity that as I stumbled around in the half-light, wondering whom to ask for directions, I saw a wiry silhouette standing on a veranda that I seemed to recognize from an earlier meeting as Rita’s.

“I knew it was you right away,” she told me later. I suppose skinny white guys on foot carrying talking sticks don’t exactly blunder into Ekuanitshit every day. Rita sat me down to a plate of spaghetti, and it seemed that over the next two hours we talked about nothing and everything. Rita was just back from Sweden, where she had attended the launching of a bilingual collection of her poetry- in French and Swedish. The book was dedicated to the Romaine River, and featured some unbeatable photos. We talked about an international writers’ retreat that Rita had hosted that summer on Innu territory, about culture and continuity, and also about the state of local politics, now that Hydro Quebec had started ground-breaking operations near the dam site.

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Chris Scott and Ekuanitshit chief Jean-Charles Piétacho

The next day, Rita and I conveyed Roger Orr’s message to Ekuanitshit chief Jean-Charles Piétacho, and afterwards, because I had spent a couple nights in a cabin near the Romaine, Rita and her sister drove me to the site to pick my stuff up.

While Rita and I posed for a photo at the Romaine’s estuary, I stood still for a moment and tried to take stock of our situation. Without a doubt, the Romaine is a mighty river. Emptying into a national park that is visited annually by thousands of kayakers and tourists; drawing water down from the Labrador highlands into the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Its currents are by turns crystalline and opaque, frequently impetuous, always rich in nutrients, and ever ready to provide renewal to a traveler that has come here at the end of a long road. Glancing around me at the conifers, tall, proud as spears, rising above the wave-washed rock, I felt a sense of accomplishment, not simply because we had come the distance, but because we had managed to gather around us a cluster of valuable allies. Virtually everybody who lives on the North Shore has a favourite river, and what we were beginning to realize is that if we allow the provincial government to continue announcing its hydroelectric projects one river at a time, sooner or later we will all be left bereaved.

The generation, or generations, that ran this marathon are blessed with a choice, in that together we have enough wits and resourcefulness and fighting spirit to force this government to back down. Together we can devise pressure tactics to insist that a portion of the eight billion dollars that are being mismanaged on the Romaine project be reallocated towards investments in energy conservation and renewable energy. We can oblige the Charest government to publish a list of the North Shore rivers it intends to dam as part of its 8000 megawatt initiative, and in doing so we can draw the debate about energy policy out of the boardrooms, and back into the public sphere where it belongs.

Doing this will not be easy, and it may take marathon-type determination. But the reward, for us and for future generations, will be to live in a spectacular province, with free-flowing rivers, a thriving fishery, a high standard of living, and a population that is aware and proud of what it has achieved.

This future can be ours, and it is worth working for.

Alliance Romaine would like to thank you all for the care, support and attention you have supplied us during our six-week marathon. We promise to keep you abreast of events as we prepare for our spring campaign season, and we give you our solemn pledge to consider and involve you in this struggle until our rivers receive the protection that they deserve!

For the love of our rivers, and wild spaces!

Chris, with the Alliance Romaine team

Click here to read the letter from Roger Orr

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