Hannah Martin had an opportunity many won’t have in their lifetime – to talk about environmental issues in Ottawa and pose a question to the prime minister directly.
Martin, originally from Tatamagouche and a member of Millbrook First Nation, spent four days earlier this month on Parliament Hill as part of the Daughters of the Vote through Equal Voice Canada.
It was through this opportunity that Martin addressed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the House of Commons during question period about the grandmothers and others protesting the Alton Gas natural gas storage plan near Stewiacke.
“I had the opportunity to present a speech or testimony to the Status of Women, which was quite similar to what I asked the prime minister,” said Martin, a week after the Daughters of the Vote.
In her testimony, she spoke to the committee about the need for an Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise, as well as a call to reject an upcoming Request for Proposals for gold exploration and mining in Warwick Mountain.
“I spoke about the violence against the land and the violence against women, and how those two issues relate to women and gender equity,” said Martin.
Having that testimony in the back of her mind, Martin went a bit off-the-cuff when she was randomly selected to ask a question to Trudeau.
Earlier in the day, a number of pre-selected women were giving testimony to those in the gallery at House of Commons. At the time, Trudeau wasn’t present. He arrived later, and Martin was chosen in the question period.
“I made the decision I was going to attempt to use that opportunity to talk about Alton Gas. As a Mi’kmaw woman, that is right now one of the biggest issues we are facing. There are a number of environmental issues in the province, but this one is coming to a head. There’s been a lot happening lately with a court-imposed injunction to have the water protectors removed from the land.”
Alton Gas plans to use underground caverns near Stewiacke to store natural gas. The plan is to pump water from the Shubenacadie River to an underground site more than 10 kilometres away, where it will be used to flush out salt deposits and create more than a dozen caverns. Leftover solution would be pumped back into the river.
Martin says she understands and recognizes the importance of following the traditional ways of life, and wants people to remember First Nations never ceded their territory.
“It’s important to speak truth to that, and to remind the state and the powers within Canada. It’s the truth and if we’re going to have a sovereign land, that needs to be recognized.”
In addressing Trudeau, Martin said she condemned the behaviour of the Canadian government, saying government officials continue to “oppress our people and to oppress our grandmothers who are on the (Shubenacadie) River, living according to our traditional ways of life as Mi’kmaw people.”
For years, protesters have been on the site. On March 27, the Supreme Court issued an injunction to have the protesters moved to a smaller site, as where they were protesting was hindering Alton Gas from accessing the site.
On March 10, three women were taken into police custody and released after they wouldn’t comply with the order.
Being a Mi’kmaw woman studying indigenous studies, Martin says she lives this reality and has been aware of how Trudeau has been responding to their rights. So, she says, she was prepared for his answer.
“To men, I was not at all surprised he answered as he did,” she said.
In his response, the prime minister said it’s important to listen to different voices, and the more government listens to a broad range of voices, the less likely it is to achieve unanimity on any given issue.
“We need to get to consensus, we need to try and understand all the concerns and issues brought forward, but we need to do that in a way that does actually allow us to move forward,” he said. “What that forward looks like, in some cases, will be moving forward with a project.”
In other cases, he continued, there wouldn’t be any forward movement.
Martin had originally applied to the Daughters of the Vote in 2017 when the first cohort went through. She wasn’t accepted then, and decided to apply again this year.
“I thought it would be a good opportunity and to give me more experience in politics, being on the Hill,” she said. “It’s a great networking opportunity with other women, senators, and politicians.”
The Daughters of the Vote accepts one female for every federal riding. The women take the riding seat in the House of Commons. Martin was filling in Bill Casey’s seat for the Cumberland Colchester riding.
She also spent a full day in indigenous programming with politicians, indigenous leaders and elders, hearing advice on getting involved in politics, as well as what her role is as an indigenous woman in politics.
Since she spoke to Trudeau on the Alton Gas situation, Martin has been getting national media attention. She’s been on APTN to talk about the issue, as well as CBC’s Power & Politics. It’s also been giving her a chance to talk about other issues, such as Jody Wilson-Raybould and the SNC-Lavalin affair.
“I feel privileged to have had this opportunity,” she said. “That space has never been a space for indigenous people, or an indigenous woman. I didn’t expect this to go the way it did and I hope more good can come from that. I had the chance to speak truth to power, and maybe it will open the door for others.”