Once upon a time, long, long ago and far away from where we live now, there was a tiny island ruled by a beautiful queen. The queen, young and in love, lived happily in her palace, surrounded by her growing family, and as her family grew, so too, did the territories that would be forced by her armies to bend their knees in homage. While her armies of soldiers in their pretty red coats and her navies in their striking blue conquered the globe for her. Inventors and industrialists turned the air black with the smoke of their factories as they converted the stolen resources into pretty things to amuse the queen. These clever men of industry cut down the forests for pit props so that they could feed the steam engines which powered the mills, they filled the rivers with poison from their processes, and while a few got rich, bloated on the success of their trinkets, more and more of her subjects were forced to seek work in the filth of the cities.
Within the bloated, blackened heart which was the capital, the queen sat unswayed by the plight of her people. About her palace the slums became overcrowded with poor, the filth produced was dropped into the river, poisoning that too, and still she slumbered with her consort blissful and unconcerned. She did nothing to improve the lives of those who lived in the dark, windowless world that was her capital. She had no need to worry about where all the waste that they produced was to go. She was a queen and every day her soldiers bold and pretty in their smart red uniforms were dying so that she could have tea and sugar on her table, she could have cotton on her back, and jewels on her pretty neck. Why should she, a queen, contemplate the needs of the poor when the world was slowly but surely being given to her?
Then one day King Cholera came to the city. He gazed upon its slums and filthy streets. He saw the potential for his own invasion right at the heart of the queen’s kingdom and he smiled his wicked smile. While the queen did nothing he decided he would take her people from him. So he slowly slid into the river. Reaching out his hands he tickled his fingers through the dirty clay under all the houses, houses filled with the poor and malnourished. Through the sickened soil he stretched out his hands until one day, joy beyond joy, he touched a well. Quickly he wiggled his finger, oh how he wiggled until the tip of his fingernail touched the sweet water and then, quick as a flash, he was through the soil and in the water and down the throats of the people.
Every day the poor would come and draw their water from the pump, they would drink down the taint and poison that King Cholera bred within the water. Elsewhere in the city his fingers probed and found cess pits where he could grow and leak through into the water wells, and so quickly the queen’s subjects began to die.
As this happened the queen’s ministers and doctors, her clever men of science, her richly dressed churchmen all shook their heads sadly and blamed the air for carrying the poisons. It was miasma they pronounced and decreed that it was mist which carried King Cholera, and as the air was worse within the poorest areas it was only natural that they should be the ones most easily stolen away.
But there was one doctor who chose to look and study rather than rely on the repeated truths of other men. He took up paper and ink and walked the streets to find the real entry point where King Cholera has found his way into the bodies of the citizens. Each day he walked and noted down the houses where people had fallen sick. Each day he drew on his map the houses of those who had died and slowly he began to see patterns. King Cholera he found was not flying through the stagnant air but rather he was being invited into the stomachs of those who drank the water from the well.
He went to the queen’s ministers who cared for the district and showed them his maps and his notes. He spoke long and eloquently on the source of the illness and by the evening convinced them to remove the handle from the well pump. Almost immediately the people became better and the doctor’s belief was proved. Sadly though the queen’s men were not as clever as they liked to believe.
Once the danger had passed and the people began to stop falling sick those clever men of science changed their minds. They argued with the doctor that to talk about how King Cholera was able to get into the water was distasteful and that it was better to spin a pretty lie than to tell the truth and do something about it. The good doctor died never seeing the truth he spoke and proved acknowledged because public distaste for an unpleasant truth will always outweigh the need to stop people dying.
The sad thing is that that story is still being repeated. We are still protected from unpleasant truths because our kings and governments believe we wouldn’t want to hear them. Worse still the unpleasant truth is that we as citizens are being sacrificed to line the pockets of a few rich industrialists.
Rachel Carson in her book “Silent Spring” wrote of the need to protect our water and our soil. She demonstrated incontrovertibly how chemicals used in agriculture and industry find their way through the soil over hundreds of miles, changing and mutating as they go, so that a farmer in Pennsylvania can poison a socialite in New York. She, like Doctor John Snow in the story, spoke the unpleasant truth which has never been answered by the kings who run our governments and the clever men of business. Those still seeking to hide the truth to line their pockets.
Rachel, fifty years ago, wrote about events in New Brunswick, Canada which are particularly pertinent to history being made as I write. In her chapter “Rivers of Death” she wrote about the spraying of forestry land with DDT to stop budworm. To the timber industry this was important, the trees went mainly to the lucrative pulp industry, big investments and dividends had to be protected so aerial spraying over thousands of acres was authorized. The tragedy is not that the budworm proved unaffected in the main by DDT, but that over time and with successive sprayings the salmon population of the Miramichi river was nearly destroyed. Why? Because the poisons were washed into the river, found their way into the tributaries that fed it, found their way into the groundwater and underground waterways and killed the insects which were food for the young salmon and caused blindness in the fish population. In fact in streams affected by spraying the juvenile populations were practically wiped out. Just as cholera spread from cesspits through the soil to wells, so too, DDT travelled through soil via water killing young salmon.
Today the source of the poison has changed but the effects will be felt for years to come if events are allowed to progress as big business wants it to. People who are seeking to protect this planet, it’s water and the stomachs of our children are peacefully protesting the fracking process in New Brunswick and are being met with and being fired upon by those sworn to protect and serve them.
In the quest for oil and gas, clever men have devised ways to draw it out from the earth and extract it using chemicals that no one could ever say were safe or healthy. While they spin their pretty lie that things are safe they refuse to acknowledge the truth proved by John Snow and Rachel Carson amongst others, that earth is not a hermetic seal and water likes to travel through it. The solvents they tell us can never be released are being found in rivers and drinking water. The clever, pretty lie once more rears it’s head telling us, convincing us, that there’s nothing to worry about and nothing to fear. Those who disagree are met with violence and arrest and the media tows the line the king tells them to.
This issue, this important pivotal point in the world’s history, is not being protested by the general masses. New York, Toronto, every town and city on the continent that should be isn’t up in arms at the destruction of a huge part of our shared earth. The people who are defending us are those that the media and government neglect, those whom the land was taken from, and who have suffered centuries of being reduced in the mind of the population to a series of halloween costumes and cheesy saturday afternoon matinees. These people who have lived in harmony with the earth, who understand the interconnection between every part of it from rock to plant, from bird to animal, from water to human and found ways to respect and protect it, these are the ones who now stand in the way of guns and armies. The shame on our spirits is that we fail to recognize that their courage and that their belief protects us and our children too.
The story unfolding in New Brunswick has already been reduced and diminished. The media is calling it a protest, but it is so much more. It is the beginning of a revolution where a people, turned in the popular mind into a caricature, are now demanding that they are respected as they deserve to be. These men, women, and children aren’t just standing up for the planet against big business. This is the issue that is most pressing because the work is about to begin but it is part of a larger protest which is equally as valid.
These wonderful, amazing people are history makers. Where the greedy men of business protected and supported by equally greedy governments carry guns these people carry feathers. They choose the most powerful symbol of their culture to stand against those who would seek to brush them aside in the pursuit of wealth, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on behalf of government and big business to be precise. Against drums and feathers the RCMP brought snipers and riot gear. The Mi’kmaq, and in particular the Elsipogtog nations are equally as valid and equally as important as the nations of Canada and America. That the average person on the street would look at you with a raised eyebrow if you asked them what those words represented is a tragedy but it’s one I hope that will be turned around.
What started as a story about infection passing through the soil and water to kill, becomes so much more. New Brunswick is the rising of nations that have been held down by social manipulation and government policy. That they choose to protect us and our children from poisons that the oil industry want to use should be a reason for every individual on the continent to rise and support them and do it gratefully. Instead the average American will be more concerned about rising fuel prices and sneer if you ask about the poisoning of water sources and the continued denial of the rights of a whole nation.
These peoples, across the whole of Canada and America, are worthy and deserve the support of everyone in their efforts. What the media is saying is a local issue is in fact one which will affect us all. That the Mi’kmaq in asserting their right to say what happens on their land is, I hope, the start of indigenous peoples taking their rightful place in government and leadership across the continent. That they are saving our asses as they do it, and from our own greed, should be reason enough to say thank you and rise up in support.
Perhaps in telling the story of cholera and salmon we can see how interconnected we are, not just in terms of the environment, but also as humans and so begin to make choices which are right and not just more pretty lies. This is not a new tale but one that has played out again and again, but perhaps, just perhaps, with New Brunswick we will stand on the right side of history as it unfolds.