Making a Difference
The whole idea of our Green Rights project (www.GreenRights.com) – which includes 30 Green Interviews, three films, and a book – was to persuade Canadians and Americans that they should have the legal right to a healthy environment: clean air, pure water, healthy food. We don’t have that now.
What we learned during our research and filming, however, was that legal systems do offer various other techniques that shrewd and dedicated environmentalists can use. In our CBC-TV show Defenders of the Dawn (2015; click here to view it), we told how the citizens of Inverness County, Nova Scotia persuaded the municipal government to pass a by-law asserting the right of its citizens to pure water, which means no fracking. We also reported on several lawsuits which contend that the provision in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guaranteeing “life, liberty and security of the person” must logically include the right to breathe, drink and eat. And in our segment on the Harrietsfield, NS water scandal, we introduced Marlene Brown, who recently launched the first private prosecution in the history of the province, against the two numbered companies responsible for polluting her water.
That use of the courts is exactly the kind of thing we hoped to encourage. So you can imagine our delight to receive a message from Richard Rachals of Lunenburg, NS, saying this:
“About a year ago I stumbled on Defenders of the Dawn. Inspired by that work and the Oposa Doctrine, I retained the services of our newly bewigged Jamie [activist-turned-lawyer Jamie Simpson] to investigate the possibility of having a fourth grade class sue the Provincial and Federal Governments for their right to a habitable planet.
“Both Jamie and [Dalhousie law professor] Meinhard Doelle felt that a frontal assault based on our Section 7 Charter Right to ‘Security of Person,’ or on Public Trust Doctrine, would be premature at this time and possibly create a bad precedent for later attempts. So, reluctantly, we decided to pursue a course of establishing smaller legal precedents that would empower ordinary citizens and eventually lead to the larger goal of a Charter challenge.
“We chose Harrietsfield as our first case and contacted Lisa Mitchell, the executive Director of ECELAW. Now, after six months of work, Jamie has helped Marlene Brown file a private prosecution, the first such action in Nova Scotia.”
I was stunned. It’s a basic feature of activist journalism – of life, really – that you never know what impact your activities may have. But here was a confirmation that the Green Rights project was having exactly the impact we had hoped it would have. I sent a note to the whole Green Interview team.
“This email,” I said, “makes the whole effort worthwhile. Marlene’s case may well open the door to a whole wave of prosecutions that wouldn’t have happened without the Green Rights initiative. We’ve made a genuine and important difference, and I’m just thrilled — as I think all of us should be.”
And you – who have supported us through this long journey – should be equally thrilled. It’s your triumph, too. The trial is slated to go ahead on June 13.
However, making a difference isn’t the same as making a living. Green Rights has been a huge success in terms of impact and influence, but financially its performance has been modest. Furthermore, Donald Trump’s sabre-rattling about slashing educational funding has spooked some of The Green Interview’s best institutional clients in the US. So I’ve updated, refreshed and re-focussed my speaker’s page at eSpeakers.com, hoping to turn a useful penny at the podium while also promoting the films and the book. If you’re looking for a speaker, or know someone else who is, please send them this link to my page. Or just go to www.eSpeakers.com and search for me by name. I appreciate any leads you can generate.
The recent screenings in Wolfville and particularly in Mahone Bay were very satisfying. The Tatamagouche screening scheduled for June 10 has been postponed till the fall, so the next screening is on July 1, as part of a literary festival at the public library in Margaree Forks, Cape Breton. I’ll also be reading from my own work at the festival. CBC’s Mary Lynk will host, and other presenters will include novelist Donna Morrissey and Ian Brown of The Globe and Mail. Scott Macmillan will provide music, and all in all I expect we’ll ring in Canada’s 150th birthday in fine style.
Why not come and join us? I’d love to see you there!
Big Joe Mufferaw paddled into Mattawa
All the way from Ottawa, in just one day.
On the River Ottawa, the best man we ever saw
Was Big Joe Mufferaw, the old folks say….
Come and listen while I tell you what the old folks say.
So goes the song by Stompin’ Tom Connors. When I first heard it, Stompin’ Tom was talking to Peter Gzowski on Morningside about his new album, describing Big Joe as “kind of a Canadian Paul Bunyan,” the hero of innumerable tall tales. It’s still one of my favourites among Stompin’ Tom’s 300 songs, the lovely legacy of a plain-spoken, plain-singing man from Skinner’s Pond, PEI, who loved nothing better than to sing the stories of ordinary Canadians – tobacco harvesters, smelter workers, hockey players, truck drivers, and loggers like Joseph Montferrand, the 19th-century strongman whose name was ultimately mispronounced as “Joe Mufferaw.”
Somewhere along the line I heard that a statue of Big Joe had been erected in Mattawa. So when I realized in early May that our motor home Merlin would be rolling through Mattawa on our way home to the Maritimes from BC, I insisted on stopping to find the statue and have my picture taken with Big Joe.
And that’s how we discovered Mattawa, pop. 2000, a charming little brick-built Ontario town, reminiscent of Stephen Leacock’s Mariposa, with a well-preserved Main Street – also named “Monestime Street” in honour of Dr. Firmin Monestine, Canada’s first black mayor. And, as we rolled onto Monestime Street, there it was – a large, varnished wooden statue of a man in pioneer garb. Big Joe Mufferaw, right?
Wrong. The street was punctuated with big wooden statues – a priest, an indigenous man with a feather in his headband, noble-looking fellows in fringed jackets and boots. At the end of the street, walking our two Shelties in a little park by the broad, fast-flowing river, I found the explanation on a plaque. Mattawa stands at the junction of the Ottawa and Mattawa Rivers, a key spot on the canoe route westward for explorers, traders, missionaries and others. The Mattawa joins the Ottawa with Lake Nipissing and the French River — which we had just passed — leading onward to the upper Great Lakes, the Prairies, and ultimately the Pacific Coast.
Broadly speaking, Merlin had just retraced the old canoe route in reverse. Here in Mattawa, we were crossing paths with the great French figures of western exploration, the people we learned about in school – Samuel de Champlain, Radisson and Groseilliers, La Verendrye, Fathers Brebeuf and Lalemant – not to mention Alexander Mackenzie, who made the first coast-to-coast crossing of Canada in 1793, and Grey Owl, whose wife was from Mattawa.
Those are the people whose imposing wooden statues stand all along Monestime Street – which, along with the authentic streetscape itself, tells me that Mattawa understands the importance of its history, and is proud to assert its pivotal role in the story of Canada. Maritime municipalities, please take note. Stop putting the wrecking ball through the buildings that embody your own unique stories. Preserve some streetscapes. Commission some statues.
But the statue that is not on Monestime Street is the statue of Big Joe Mufferaw. So where was that? I asked a school crossing guard. Oh, he said, Big Joe is across the bridge, in front of the museum.
With the dogs, we crossed the Mattawa River on the elegant steel bridge and stopped in front of the log-built replica of old Fort Mattawa, which stands in a rolling green riverside park. No statue. No statue at the back, no statue anywhere.
I walked across the street to a second-hand store. Pardon me, but isn’t the Big Joe Mufferaw statue somewhere around here?
Oh, dat, he said, in a strong French accent, dey took it down. It was all rotten. One of de arms fell off, nearly hurt someone. I hear dey’re making a new one, maybe for dis summer.
Ah. Well, damn.
We re-crossed the bridge, and Marjorie took photos of me and the dogs with the statues of Mackenzie and Groseilliers instead. Here I am with Médard Chouart des Groseilliers. We bought excellent poutine from a street vendor, ate it, and steered Merlin east towards Ottawa and home.
Big Joe Mufferaw paddled into Mattawa, all the way from Ottawa in just one day.
So how far is that, anyway? I can tell you now: three hundred kilometers, and the man who could paddle that distance, upstream, in a single day, surely was “the best man we ever saw.” He deserves the place in our story that Stompin’ Tom secured for him. And I’m very glad that he led us to Mattawa. I’m just sorry to have missed him.
In other news, we did get back to Nova Scotia early last week, after 6400 kilometers and nearly three weeks on the road. Before we’ve really unpacked, however, Merlin is on the road again for a few days in and around Halifax. Next Friday, May 19, at 1:15, I’ll be making a presentation at the annual conference of EECOM, The Canadian Network for Environmental Education and Communication, on the campus of Acadia University in Wolfville, NS followed by a screening of the film . The presentation takes place from 1:15 to 2:30, and the screening from 3:00 to 4:00, with an open discussion afterward.
Then I hop in the car and whisk off to Mahone Bay for a screening at 7:00 sponsored by the South Shore Chapter of the Council of Canadians and the Friends of Nature.
Next, on June 2-3, Marjorie and I are featured — along with our friend Lorrie Neilsen Glenn — at the Hubbards Writers Festival, also on the South Shore in the lovely village of Hubbards. But that event doesn’t involve the film, though the DVD and the book Warrior Lawyers will be available there.
The next actual screenings of the film are on June 10 in Tatamagouche, NS, details TBA, and July 1 at the public library in Margaree Forks, Cape Breton. And at that point we’re going to take Merlin, park him on the beach at MacLeod’s Campsite in Dunvegan, and enjoy the sun and the sand for a couple of days. Summer, at last — or so we hope!
Joel Solomon has spent much of his life engaged with money – earning it, investing it, thinking about it, and giving it away. Although his activities are centred on British Columbia, his impact is national and international. He is one of Canada’s most notable environmental philanthropists, and he is the author of a fascinating new book, The Clean Money Revolution (New Society Press, co-authored by noted BC writer Tyee Bridge). The book’s starting point is that over the next few years, the baby boomers will pass their wealth to the next generation. In North America alone, says Solomon, that’s about $50 trillion by 2050. What that generation does with this windfall will shape the future of the Earth, and the signs are encouraging. A generation dedicated to healthy living, healthy food and a healthy world is not likely to invest in organizations that don’t share those values.
Joel Solomon is our newest Green Interview. You can find the interview here.
In other news, for a recent catalogue listing I had to assemble a list of the Green Rights film’s screenings, venues and awards. It’s an impressive list, and I’ve posted it here.
The film was screened numerous times in April, notably at Simon Fraser University and at the Vancouver Planetarium, where the David Suzuki Foundation and Ecojustice co-sponsored an event centred on the film, with live music and speakers including Mike Harcourt, the former Premier of British Columbia. It was shown all over Canada around Earth Day — on April 10 in Ladner, BC, on Thursday April 20th in Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay, ON, and on Earth Day itself in North Saanich, BC and Edmonton, AB.
I have been thrilled at the film’s reception. This was the second screening of the film in Thunder Bay, and the organizers are discussing a third showing. Meanwhile, an audience member in North Saanich wrote, “It was a barn-burner evening, rounded out and enriched by comments from Elizabeth May. She got teary when she was speaking about the ‘Scott’ paper mill. So well done. All the work that you put into making the film is bearing fruit.”
This is tremendously gratifying. I was able to attend the Vancouver and Ladner events, and also the Edmonton showing, which was part of the city’s Resilience Festival. It was standing room only, with a crackling discussion afterwards among deeply-committed and articulate citizens. The two proposed screenings in Saskatchewan had to be postponed, but the Edmonton organizers want to show the film again, to a larger audience, probably next winter, so we hope to organize a mid-winter tour of several Prairie cities.
The film will be shown several times in the Maritimes over the next few months – in Wolfville and Mahone Bay on May 19, in Tatamagouche on June 10 and in Margaree on July 1. I’ll be discussing it, but not screening it, in Hubbards on June 3. It continues to win awards, most recently a Gold in the International Independent Film Awards.
If you haven’t seen it, I’m happy to report that we’ve finally had time to produce a DVD, so you can order your own copy from my web site. Just click here.
And this note is written in Kenora, Ontario, where Merlin the Motorhome is pausing on his eastbound cross-country trip. We expect to be back in Nova Scotia by the end of the first week in May, ready to enjoy a Maritime summer – and to begin another project. Stay tuned!
I was recently asked by someone compiling a catalogue page to provide a list of screenings and other presentations of our film Green Rights: The Human Right to a Healthy World. It was an eye-opening task. Here’s the list of events both completed and booked:
Mount St. Vincent University
St. Francis Xavier University
University of Ottawa
University of Toronto
University of Guelph
University of Waterloo
York University (Osgoode Hall Law School)
University of Manitoba
University of British Columbia
Simon Fraser University
University of Victoria
University of Oregon
Screenings in Communities
Ottawa (Lord Elgin launch, associated with Senate Speaker’s reception)
Kingston (community theatre)
Toronto (community theatre)
Calgary (Unitarian Church)
Vancouver (David Suzuki Foundation)
Ladner, BC (United Church)
North Saanich, BC (United Church)
UBC Museum of Anthropology
Council of Canadians, South Shore Nova Scotia
Friends of Nature
Margaree Area Development Association
Festivals, Awards and similar
Belleville Downtown Doc Festival (ON)
Erin Fast Forward Film Festival (ON)
Orangeville (ON): Climate Change Action Dufferin-Caledon (ON)
Sault Ste Marie Clean North Festival (ON)
Antigonish International Film Festival (NS)
Thunder Bay Environmental Film Festival (ON)
Edmonton Resilience Festival (AB)
Award of Merit, Impact Docs Awards
Gold Winner, International Independent Film Awards
Award of Merit, Accolade Global Film Competition
Conferences and similar
Canadian Network for Environmental Education and Communication conference
Public Interest Environmental Law Conference
Joel Solomon is businessman, visionary, investor, philanthropist and now author of The Clean Money Revolution. A regenerative economy is at the heart of our sustainable future, says Solomon. And without “clean money” no other sector will change. In this exclusive Green Interview, he speaks with Silver Donald Cameron about his own journey after being diagnosed with a serious illness and how it led ultimately to his latest book about clean money—investing in socially and environmentally responsible ventures as a way to shift society towards sustainability.
The Health Connection, The Clean Money Revolution, and Socially Responsible Investing
In this exclusive Green Interview, Solomon discusses the health connection that set him on this path, the concept of clean money, and the importance of socially responsible investing.
In this exclusive interview with Joel Solomon we discuss:
The Health Connection
In his early 20s, Joel Solomon learned that he had inherited polycystic kidney disease, a potentially fatal illness that runs in his family. He told The Green Interview that his doctors told him he could live a long time or he could live for two years, and there was nothing he could really do about it. “That shook me up a lot,” he says. “I spent a lot of time searching for what’s the meaning and purpose of my life. If it is going to end, and it might end soon, then what do I want to have accomplished or what matters to me? So it really did send me on probably the most important journey of my life.” Instead of following in the family’s lead and going into the shopping mall development business in Tennessee, Solomon was eventually drawn to Cortez Island, off the coast of British Columbia. Solomon’s health concerns also led him to pursue alternative health regimens, particularly focusing on a healthy diet. “My first involvement with money was inheriting a small amount from effectively my father’s work and I decided it needed to go into healthy, cleaner food because that had become an important part of my own journey and from there one thing led to another.”
The Clean Money Revolution
Solomon’s book, The Clean Money Revolution, looks at the concept of clean money – or what he calls “examined money.” Solomon says that with any financial transaction, and particularly when money is being invested, questions need to be asked about who the money is affecting and how. “I’m not satisfied doing maximum damage to people and place in order to maximize my money. I don’t really think it should be legal if I really get down to it,” he says. Solomon says the drive to understand how his money is being used in the world is a “responsibility” he takes seriously because when it’s used to exploit people or the planet—activities that often result in higher returns—it resembles a “toxic substance.”
Socially Responsible Investing
In 1993 Solomon, who inherited $3 million, formed a partnership with Rubbermaid heiress Carol Newell, who inherited roughly $60 million from her family’s fortune. In the beginning Solomon helped Newell “design, structure, strategize and implement a program to put the majority of that money out into the world doing good, clean or better, cleaner things than what was going to happen by just handing it over to a wealth manager into a stock market,” he tells The Green Interview. Over the years they have created an organization that includes a foundation (Tides Canada), a charity (Endswell), as well as an investment agency (Renewal). Solomon is currently president of Renewal Partners, “a collection of independent organizations founded (in 2009) by Newell to carry out her original mission of fostering social change,” according to its Web site.
From left: David Boyd, Lisa Sundstrom, Max Cameron, Sheryl Lightfoot, all of UBC; and Silver Donald Cameron. Out of frame: Nuno Porto, UBC Museum of Anthropology.
On March 23, I was on a panel at the UBC Museum of Anthropology with the five remarkable people in the photo. We were discussing a stimulating and moving exhibition called The Rights of Nature, focussed on artifacts from the Amazon basin — and on the recognition by some regional governments of the legal rights of Pachamama, the complex and sophisticated Andean conception of Mother Nature. I was there because some of our Green Interview videos were incorporated into the exhibition; Chris Beckett and I had interviewed some major figures from the region about these very themes.
For me, however, the exhibition underscored how little I know about the incredible richness and diversity of the region, both in human and biological terms – the incredible array of plants and animals, but also the vast range of human experience. The region has 385 Aboriginal groups, some of which have never been contacted. They have lived there for 11,000 years, and their relationships with their forest world are as therapeutic for the spirit as some forest plants are for the body.
To start with, for them the forest is not merely physical – a “resource” or a set of resources. It is their habitat, their fundamental reality, the home of their spirits. Without it, they would be lost, which is why Indigenous cultures in the region have been going extinct as mining, logging and oil exploration have ravaged their terrain. That’s also why Indigenous people everywhere will fight to the death for the well-being of their territory; they are responsible for and to their land in a mutual relationship that largely defines who they are.
As a result, Amazonian ways of seeing the world can be totally surprising to the Western mind. Here’s one example, from a group called the Ashaninka, a nation of perhaps 40,000 people whose territory straddles the boundary between Peru and Brazil. The Ashaninka see the world as several superimposed levels, some visible and some not. Some of the levels can be seen only by the animals, notably the birds. Reality is complex, fluid, multi-layered and inclusive. All else aside, it is much more interesting, much more human, than the one-dimensional world of commerce and industry.
Now look at Bolivia and Ecuador, which call themselves “plurinational states” — states that contain many different nations. So do Canada and the US, which do not call themselves “plurinational,” though I believe they should. We tend to think of “nations” as synonymous with nation-states, a notion that crumbles on analysis. A nation is a group of people who share a culture, a language, a system of governance and so on; a state is defined by a boundary that can be drawn by anyone with sufficient power. “National” boundaries in the Middle East and Africa were largely drawn by European colonial powers, for instance, and commonly ignore the traditional boundaries recognized by the inhabitants.
What if we thought of nationhood the way the Ashaninka think of the world itself, as superimposed interactive levels? The territory where I live is the province of Canada known as Nova Scotia – but it’s also part of the traditional French-speaking territory known as Acadia, and of Mi’kma’ki, the large Mi’kmaq territory that includes most of the Maritime provinces, a bit of Maine and a large swath of Quebec. What if we recognized different governments as having jurisdiction over the same territories – and negotiated the issues where all three groups had shared interests, while respecting their independence in other matters?
It sounds radical, but in fact we do something like it now; I am simultaneously a citizen of Richmond County, Nova Scotia and Canada, and each of those jurisdictions governs different aspects of my life. We also recognize Mi’kmaq jurisdiction in some matters, and accept that Acadians have certain specific rights. If we are truly interested in truth and reconciliation – and increasing numbers of us are – we will have to negotiate our way forward in accordance with the treaties we have signed, just as the provinces now negotiate with Canada on the basis of the agreements which make up the Canadian constitution. Perhaps the Ashaninka concept of reality provides us with a visualization that can help us find the path that leads us forward together.
The peoples of the Amazon – Indigenous people generally — strike me as wealthy in ways that industrial culture simply doesn’t understand. These cultures seem to see both the forest and the trees – the trees as individual beings, the forest as a community that parallels and includes and enriches the human community. Interestingly enough, Western science increasingly understands this, as witness the complicated relationships within the forest described in Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees. We know that the Amazon includes innumerable species that we do not begin to understand, species that the local people use in a bewildering variety of ways. Compared with this, seeing the forest community only as potential chopsticks or newsprint or lumber is a pathetically impoverished way of understanding the world to which we actually belong.
What I had not understood is the existence of a social ecology in the region that parallels the profundity and intricacy of the forest itself. The forest, it seems, is as fecund in ideas as it is in biology. That’s why people like the Ashaninka have persisted for 11,000 years. If I had to make a bet about which nations will still be here in another 11,000 years, I wouldn’t bet on the member states of the United Nations. I’d bet on the Mi’kmaq, the Torres Strait Islanders in Australia, the Ashaninka. And I would say to my own descendants, respect these people, bring them close, and seek to learn what they can teach you. These are the people who know.
New Green Interview: Gary Saunders!
We’ve published our newest Green Interview, with Nova Scotia forester, author, educator and painter Gary Saunders, author of the award-winning new book, My Life With Trees. The book is a unique memoir of 30 chapters each focussed on a particular species of tree, and on Gary’s memories of people associated with that tree. The book is illustrated with Gary’s own paintings and drawings. It seamlessly blends science and memory in graceful and resonant prose, and beautifully illustrates the depth of Gary’s understanding not only from his own scholarship and observation, but also from the indigenous people around him. The interview is enhanced with drone footage of some of the trees Gary describes, including the ones around his gracious old home in Clifton, NS.
Vancouver Screening and Seminars
I’m still in Vancouver, where our Green Rights film will be screened at the University of British Columbia this coming Thursday, March 16, at 7:00 in Theatre 102 of the Frederick Lasserre Building. The film concludes with an exploration of buen vivir, a concept of harmonious, sustainable living derived from the indigenous people of South America. Buen vivir is also at the core of Amazonia: The Rights of Nature, a fascinating new exhibition at UBC’s glorious Museum of Anthropology. Both the film and the exhibition are deeply concerned with threats to the Amazonian region from political violence, mining, oil and gas development, industrial agriculture, forest fires, and hydroelectric plants – and both celebrate the profundity, grace and sheer sanity of the indigenous peoples’ conception of a good life for humans.
The screening will be followed on March 23 at 7:00 with a Presentation Circle at the Museum of Anthropology on “The Rights and Virtues of Nature” with particular attention to buen vivir. The speakers will include David Richard Boyd (whose Green Interview generated our whole multi-media Green Rights project), as well as MOA director Nuno Porto, visiting scholar Ken Sharpe, and Professors Sheryl Lightfoot and Lisa Sundstrom of the UBC Department of Political Science. The moderator will be Dr. Maxwell Cameron of that same department. Full disclosure: Max Cameron is (he said very proudly) my son.
Also, mark down the afternoon of Sunday, April 2, for a Blue Dot/Green Rights celebration sponsored by the David Suzuki Foundation at the Vancouver Planetarium. I’ll have more details on that soon.
Accolade Award of Merit
And Green Rights has won another award: an Accolade Global Film Competition Award of Merit in the Documentary Feature category. The award, say the organizers, is “based on the quality, creativity and technical aspects of each piece.”
Thanks to the Accolade organizers – and heart-felt thanks to the mostly-Nova Scotian supporters whose contributions and constant encouragement provided us with the means to create the film and promote it. That was our entire financing structure – no grants, no tax credits, no broadcast fees, just a couple of dozen people who shared our conviction that the film was worth making. This is their award, as much as ours. We wouldn’t be here without them.
Gary Saunders is the author of the award-winning book My Life with Trees: A Sylvan Journey. In this exclusive Green Interview, he speaks with Silver Donald Cameron about how he is at home in the woods, and how that came to be, starting out in out port Newfoundland as the son of a river man. He spent most of his adult life in Nova Scotia as a forester, an artist, an educator and a writer.
Background and My Life with Trees
Gary Saunders is an author, forester, poet, and painter. In this exclusive Green Interview, Saunder discusses his book and how he has expressed his love of nature through story.
In this exclusive interview with Gary Saunders we discuss:
Gary Saunders started out as a painter, studying fine arts at Mount Allison University the Ontario College of Art, but went on to be trained as a forester, and took a position with the Nova Scotia Department of Lands and Forests extension program. Here, he became an educator, an editor and writer. Saunders has been a frequent contributor to numerous periodicals and is the author of numerous books, ranging from guidebooks (Trees of Nova Scotia and At a Glance: A Guide to Identifying and Managing Nova Scotia Hardwoods) to essays (Alder Music and September Christmas) to illustrated children’s books (The Brook and the Woodcutter). His most recent book is My Life with Trees: A Sylvan Journey.
My Life with Trees
Gary Saunders’ most recent book is My Life with Trees: A Sylvan Journey. It’s a unique memoir of 30 chapters, each focused on a particular species of tree and on his memories of people associated with that tree. The book, illustrated with Gary’s own paintings and drawings, seamlessly blends science and memory in graceful and resonant prose and beautifully illustrates the depth of Gary’s understanding, not only from his own scholarship and observation but also from the Indigenous people around him. The book recently won the Evelyn Richardson award.
Awards, Screenings, Festivals, Keynotes, Everything!
The whole idea of promotion is to get people to pay attention to your project. For a while, not much happens – and then the project roars off like a rocket sled, and you’re frantically hanging on. Here’s some of what’s going on with the Green Rights project.
IMPACT DOCS AWARD
Impact DOCS is an online awards system that “recognizes film, television, videography and new media professionals who demonstrate exceptional achievement in craft and creativity, and those who produce standout entertainment or contribute to profound social change. Documentaries were received from 30 countries, including veteran award winning filmmakers and fresh new talent.”
Green Rights was made by a tiny team with a shoestring budget provided by individual citizens who believed in the film’s importance. To have achieved this international recognition is a tremendous thrill.
PUBLIC INTEREST ENVIRONMENTAL LAW CONFERENCE: KEYNOTE AND SCREENING
I’m equally thrilled to have been invited to deliver the kick-off keynote speech at the 35th annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC) to be held from March 2nd – 5th at the University of Oregon School of Law in Eugene, Oregon. Green Rights will also be screened at the conference, and Warrior Lawyers will be on sale in the conference book store.
This is a big, big deal. Says the official invitation: “Every year, over three thousand people from across the globe come together in Eugene for the oldest and largest public interest environmental law conference in the world. Land Air Water, a wholly volunteer student group at the University of Oregon School of Law, hosts the event. PIELC brings together activists, advocates, students, scientists, government officials, and concerned citizens to share information and strategies that promote environmental and social justice.
“The conference is extraordinary. It puts ideas into action, sparks commitment to environmental protection across borders, and has inspired the creation of numerous public interest environmental and human rights organizations. Last year the Conference hosted over one hundred and twenty panels and workshops, a variety of multi-media presentations, special events, and dynamic keynote addresses throughout the weekend. The conference consistently attracts press, government officials, and environmental and social leaders from over forty countries.”
(AND INTERVIEWS IN OREGON)
Chris Beckett will be joining me for the PIELC conference, where we expect to collect several new Green Interviews to be released later in the year.
UNIVERSITY OF VICTORIA
The next Green Rights presentations will be at the University of Victoria Law School on February 21. At 12:30 I’ll be delivering a lecture (“Warrior Lawyers: Using the Law to Save the Planet”) in Room 152 of the Fraser Building, and at 7:00 I’ll host a screening of the Green Rights film in Room 159 of the Fraser Building. These events – at which the public is warmly welcomed – are also organized by the students, and I’m grateful to them for pulling it all together.
VANCOUVER AND THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA
March will bring at least two screenings in Vancouver. One will take place at the University of British Columbia, in conjunction with an exhibition at UBC’s magnificent Museum of Anthopology called “Amazonia: The Rights of Nature.” The date and venue are not yet determined, but it will probably be in mid-month. The second screening – to be co-presented with the David Suzuki Foundation – will be in a downtown location also to be determined, and probably towards the end of the month.
OTHER SCREENINGS, PAST AND FUTURE
In the meantime – and this also delights me – the film is being shown at small festivals and by community groups around the country. On January 18th it was featured in the Erin Fast Forward Film Festival, just north of Guelph, and it was shown on the 31st in nearby Orangeville by the Dufferin-Caledon Citizens Climate Action Group. On March 4 it will be screened in the Belleville Downtown DocFest, also in Ontario. On May 19 it will be shown in both Wolfville and Mahone Bay, NS, and on Canada Day it will be at the Coady-Tompkins Library in Margaree Forks, Cape Breton. A number of other screenings are in negotiation.
These small screenings are wonderful. We made the film for the people of Canada (and the United States), and whenever it speaks to that audience, a little circle of civic relationship is closed. That’s just as true whether the audience is in Ottawa or Orangeville. When an organizer like Liz Armstrong writes to say, “Our audience in Erin, Ontario was totally inspired by Green Rights. Every Canadian (and American) who cares about their kids and the future should see this film” – well, it doesn’t get much better than that.
BOOK REVIEWS AND COVERAGE
Meanwhile, Warrior Lawyers is also forging its way along. It recently received a lovely review from Gordon Pellerin which posted on the website of Atlantic Books Today. You can read it here: http://atlanticbookstoday.ca/warrior-lawyers-features-ecological-litigators-worthy-of-worldwide-fame/.
The book has also won some very thoughtful reviews on Amazon, which you can find here. Now I admit I helped that process along by offering a free copy to anyone who would promise to write an honest review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. Note that I’m not looking for a positive review, necessarily, just an honest review. That offer stands: if anyone reading this will promise to review Warrior Lawyers, I’ll send a free e-book – or, if the reviewer wishes, a paper copy. Just drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
My brother and his lady recently took Marjorie and me to Odysseo by Cavalia, which one might think of as the circus on horseback, the rodeo re-imagined by Cirque du Soleil. It’s spectacular, dazzling, totally original. Colour, fireworks, horses dancing at a full gallop, people flying through the air, acrobatics and tumbling, shifting backdrops of desert and jungle. I loved it, though my eyes could hardly keep up with what was happening in front of me.
These days, my life is a bit like that. It keeps me active. It keeps me alert. And it keeps me humble.
Nova Scotia artists and cultural critics Paul Andrew Kimball and Ron Foley Macdonald are the publishers of the podcast View 902 (view902.com. For those outside Nova Scotia, “902” is the province’s area code.) In the site’s current feature interview, Kimball engages Silver Donald Cameron in an extended conversation about Cameron’s new book Warrior Lawyers: From Manila to Manhattan, Attorneys for the Earth. In Kimball’s description:
“We discuss the concept of natural law, and our duty of care as human beings to the planet and to the creatures with which we share it, and talk about a couple of examples from the book of lawyers and others who have engaged in citizen activism and used the law to combat corporate wrongdoing and change government policy on the environment.
“I end with a song I wrote way back in 1991 and recorded, but never released, with my band Julia’s Rain in 1995. Called “Shadows Grow,” I never thought it would be even more relevant today than ever. “Our pockets kill the fields” is still true, sadly, but thankfully folks like Silver Donald Cameron and the men and women he interviews in Warrior Lawyers are making a difference.”
To hear the podcast, click here: http://view902.com/view-902-podcast-episode-3-silver-donald-cameron/
For some reason, my last newsletter contained broken hyperlinks. My apologies. Here are the actual links, and I hope you’ll enjoy these pages, if a little later than I had hoped.
The new Green Interview with Camille Labchuk: http://www.thegreeninterview.com/2016/12/22/camille-labchuk/
The National Observer article on The Mother of All Book Promotion Tours: http://www.nationalobserver.com/2016/12/21/analysis/one-motor-home-6000-km-and-mother-all-book-tours
From Liz Armstrong of the Erin Fast Forward Film Festival in Erin, Ontario, about 20 miles from Guelph:
“Your film is really top notch, and we can’t wait to show it as the lead documentary at our Erin eco-film series next Wednesday [January 18]. THANK YOU. You and Chris Beckett make a fantastic team!”
No, Liz, thank you. We hope your festival is a huge success.
Camille Labchuk: Our Newest Green Interview
Reflections on the Mother of All Book Promotion Tours
How Your Organization Can Screen the Green RightsFilm
Upcoming Screenings of the Film
Camille Labchuk: Advocate for Animals
Still in her early 30s, Camille Labchuk has been an environmental and animal rights activist for more than 20 years, since she saw television images of the seal hunt off her native Prince Edward Island. She was Green Party leader Elizabeth May’s first staffer – and when she saw the power of May’s law degree, she enrolled in law school herself. After establishing the first animal-rights law practice in Canada, she became Executive Director of Animal Justice, a not-for-profit legislative fund advocating for the humane treatment of animals. As a lawyer, she defends activists and animals in the courts – including the Supreme Court — and works on campaigns that seek further protection for animals, particularly farm animals. Passionate, articulate and engaging, Camille Labchuk is our latest Green Interview. To see, hear or read the interview, click here.
The Mother of All Book Promotion Tours
As readers of this blog already know, Marjorie Simmins and I set out from Nova Scotia in a motorhome late in September to promote her new book (Year of the Horse), my new book (Warrior Lawyers) and The Green Interview’s latest documentary film, Green Rights: The Human Right to a Healthy World. We fetched up in Vancouver on November 5. A few weeks later, the National Observer published my reflections on this 6700-km adventure, which included 38 events in 43 days. You can read the piece here.
How Your Organization Can Screen the Green Rights Film
Our Green Rights film was completed just in time for me to present it in venues across Canada during the promotional tour, but we hadn’t figured out a process to make it available for screening by other organizations on other occasions. Now we have. For community screenings with free admission, we provide a contract with modest screening fees based on expected attendance. For “house parties” – small private screenings at club meetings, dinner parties and the like — the fees are even more modest. For an additional charge, either producer/director Chris Beckett or I can participate live in your event either in person or remotely.
We also offer copies of the film in DVD, Blu-Ray and MP4 formats for individual viewing, and of course members of our subscription site, www.TheGreenInterview.com, can stream the film off the site at any time without any additional charges.
For more detailed information about copies and screenings, please write to email@example.com.
Upcoming Screenings of the Green Rights Film
Now that we have a procedure for screenings, we’re in discussions with perhaps 20 organizations right across Canada (and also in the US) that are interested in screening the film. I’ll post details as they are confirmed. I can confirm a couple of screenings now:
Erin Fast Forward Film Festival in Erin ON, January 18 (with a repeat about two weeks later)
Canadian Network for Environmental Education (EECOM) at Acadia University, Wolfville NS May 18-21
Very best wishes for a creative and satisfying New Year from all of us at TheGreenInterview.com!
Camille Labchuk has her own animal law practice, in fact the only one of its kind in Canada. In this exclusive Green Interview, she speaks with Silver Donald Cameron about defending animal rights and the group she heads up, Animal Justice, a national organization focused on animal law, including law reform, litigation, investigations, and education.
Passion for Animal Welfare and Animal Justice
Camille Labchuk is a lawyer, animal rights activist and the executive director of Animal Justice. In this exclusive Green Interview, Labchuk discusses her animal rights law practice, the organization she runs, and what led her to this point.
In this exclusive interview with Camille Labchuk we discuss:
Passion for Animal Welfare
At the age of nine, Labchuk witnessed the seal hunt on television and became interested in animal rights. Her mother was a significant influence on her interest in environmentalism, and helped her pursue her goals in animal activism. “My mom was a single mother and an environmental activist. She single-handedly took on the pesticide industry in PEI. She was very active when I was growing up and I had a role model from a very young age that taught me a woman can do whatever she wants and can accomplish a lot,” she has been quoted saying. In 2006, after graduating with a psychology degree from Mount Allison University, Labchuk worked for two years as press secretary for Elizabeth May, the new leader of the Green Party of Canada. Labchuk’s long held passion for animals led her to pursue a law degree and in 2014 she started her own solo animal law practice.
Animal Justice is a not for profit legislative fund based in Toronto that works on behalf of animals in Canada. Its lawyers work to pass new animal protection legislation, push for the prosecution of animal abusers, and fight for animals in court. One of its most notable cases was one that involved bestiality. In 2015, Labchuk and other lawyers at Animal Justice went to the Supreme Court to intervene in a law about bestiality. Labchuk was quoted in the media saying,“It was a defence to water down the definition of bestiality to allow sexual acts that were non-penetrative in nature.” The court awarded Labchuk’s group intervenor’s status and they were able to argue the case on behalf of animals. “That was momentous and exciting,” she says.
My Christmas Story
by Silver Donald Cameron
What all three boys wanted for Christmas was a dog. Some kind of pet, anyway. No, said their mother. Toys possibly. Books or clothing certainly. But Hazel Cameron had an ailing husband and a home on a 33-foot city lot, and she was a tidy woman. She had three boys; Donald was 13, David nine, Kenneth five. They made enough disorder. A dog? Absolutely not.
On the third Saturday before Christmas, the boys went to the Saturday matinee at the local movie theatre. The theatre management announced a contest. For every dollar spent in a local store, a customer could obtain one Puppy Buck. For six weeks, the theatre would auction off a puppy at each Saturday matinee.
Six puppies. And the boys only needed one. If they pooled their money and bought one, or even if somebody gave them one, their mother would probably make them take it back. But if they won a puppy, what could she do? She’d be stuck. Puppy Bucks were their only chance.
The theatre also passed out dog-food labels with serial numbers printed on their backs. Every Saturday it would hold a draw, and the winning number would win a caged budgie. A budgie was not a dog, admittedly. But maybe you could teach it to whistle at your mother and say, “Hubba hubba” or something. Most kids threw away their lucky dog-food labels. Donald gathered them up from the floor and the sidewalk and the trash cans, and arranged them in numerical order.
That week, the three Cameron boys spent all their allowances in local stores, and on the second Saturday before Christmas, they arrived in the theatre with eight Puppy Bucks The dog went for fifteen. Donald picked up more labels, but someone else won the budgie.
The boys were depressed. Their friends were outraged. The neighbourhood gang assembled in a basement. Al, Bill, “R.A.,” Jim and Graham, Barry. Hazel Cameron, they decided, was Mean and Selfish. The Cameron boys should have a dog. They had Their Rights. It became a Gang Project.
“If a dog moves into this house, I’m moving out,” Hazel declared. Her sons fretted. The Gang looked grave. But Barry, street-savvy and charming, simply grinned.
Gang members stood outside shop doorways every day after school for a week, begging customers to “ask for Puppy Bucks and give them to us.” Amused, the shoppers did. Half an hour before show time, the boys were still covering the stores. And then, on December 23, the Saturday before Christmas, The Gang entered the theatre, armed with 53 Puppy Bucks.
Barry sat down and turned to the kid beside him, a feckless-looking runny-nosed little shrimp. “How many you got?” he demanded. “Eight,” said the shrimp. “Huh,” said Barry, waving The Gang’s stash. “You lose. We got 53. You might’s well just give yours to us.” The shrimp shrugged — and handed over his Puppy Bucks.
Barry looked at the 61 Puppy Bucks in his hand. A light bulb flashed in his mind. He scampered through the theatre, fanning The Gang’s fat wad and picking up more from the shrimps, suckers and other losers. When the lights went down, The Gang had 263 Puppy Bucks.
The movie took forever. Then the theatre manager began the draw for the budgie. Donald riffled through his dog-food labels. There was no winner on the first number, the second, the eighth. On the ninth, Donald leaped to his feet. “Got it!” he shrieked, and went charging down the aisle.
At last the manager produced the puppy, a six-week-old golden cocker spaniel, heartbreakingly endearing. The bidding moved rapidly. Inflation had set in: another week had generated many more Puppy Bucks. Twenty, thirty, forty-seven, fifty-one —
“Fifty-three!” shouted Barry. Silence in the theatre. Going, said the manager, going… gone!
The Gang had the Camerons’ dog — and still had a commanding position in Puppy Bucks. For four glorious weeks, The Gang went every Saturday to fleece the rubes and claim another dog. A black cocker for Bill, springer spaniels for Barry and R.A., a Lab for Al. (The weekly newspaper noted the odd coincidence that five of the six puppies went to boys on the same block.) The Camerons’ spaniel lived for 14 years, giving the boys endless joy, comforting them through their father’s death, enriching Hazel’s solitary life after the boys moved out, and living long enough to meet her first grandchild. No dog was ever more wonderful.
But the gods were not finished with Hazel. On Christmas Eve, another family, unaware of the auction, brought a hamster as a pet for Hazel’s unfortunate boys. And on Monday, Christmas Day, Hazel confessed that even she had been weakened by their pleas: their parents had bought them three goldfish.
Six pets in three days.
“It was a judgment on me, for being so mean,” said Hazel, who loved this story. “Imagine me saying I’d move out if they got a dog.” For her, always, the climax was suppertime on Saturday, when freckle-faced Barry burst into her kitchen with the tiny blonde head of a bright-eyed puppy peeping from the open zipper of his windbreaker.
“Better get packin’, Mrs. Cameron!” said Barry. “Better get packin’!”
How green is a motor home? Good question. It arose a few times during our cross-country tour, and I had no time to write about it. After all, we were on the road within Nova Scotia for the last 10 days of September, left for Ottawa on September 30, and arrived in Vancouver November 5. The tour was intense and tiring; we did 38 events in 43 days and drove 6743 km. I’ve just written an article reflecting on the tour; when it’s published, I’ll re-post it on my blog.
More on the sustainability of motor homes below – but first I want to mention some lovely coverage we’ve had. I didn’t do nearly as much blogging and social media as I expected to, but Marjorie was and is very active. The best way to keep in touch with our progress is to follow us on Facebook – Marjorie Simmins, Silver Donald Cameron, GreenRights Film, and TheGreenInterview.com.
The most recent coverage is from the delightful Joseph Planta, who has become the go-to interviewer for authors visiting Vancouver. He interviewed both of us separately, and also did a joint interview. The individual interviews are now posted, here:
Over at rabble.ca, Penney Kome did a thoughtful blog post here: https://t.co/1SJQYJJtfu
The leading Ottawa environmental blogger, Rolly Montpellier, also reviewed the project here:
Back home in Nova Scotia, Stephen Clare at Celtic Life magazine thinks that story-telling is in my Caledonian DNA. He sent me his one-page interview as a .JPG file – a photo – and I’ve posted it on Facebook.
Also in Nova Scotia, forestry critic Mike Parker argues in a well-reasoned op-ed that Nova Scotians interested in retaining at least some vestige of a forest should heed Warrior Lawyers and sue the provincial government. https://t.co/dsPrnKoqXH
Finally, blogger Ron Hart at Ecocide Alert has really grasped the message of the book, and responded with one of the best reviews yet. It’s here: http://ecocidealert.com/?p=22146 Ron has also re-posted Penney Kome’s rabble.ca column here: https://ecocidealert.com/?p=22453
There have also been some fine reader reviews on Amazon. If you’d like to post one, I’d be much in your debt; those online reviews can really help a book.
And now, back to the motorhome. Here’s the passage I wrote in my little essay about The Mother of All Book Tours.
Is there such a thing as environmentally-responsible travel by motor home? Surprisingly, yes. There is no zero-impact way to cross Canada, but for a family of four or more – even if two are dogs – travelling by motor home actually generates a smaller environmental footprint than flying and renting rooms. Merlin gets tolerable mileage for a bus-sized vehicle, and we bought carbon credits not only to offset the diesel and propane we used, but also to compensate for the heating fuel in our recycled 1840s home back in Nova Scotia. Merlin’s roof-top solar panels generate much of our domestic electricity, and we buy all the rest through Bullfrog Power. We also host our web sites at Ethical Host, a company deeply devoted to social justice and sustainability.
And, in a sense, we’re still doing the tour. We had pre-scheduled only one event in BC; we didn’t want any deadlines as we crossed the Rockies. But we have all winter to do additional West Coast events. I’ll get back to you on that. The Mother of All Book Tours may yet arrive in a town near you.
The rain patters on the roof, slides down the windows, sluices down the drains. Today’s forecast? Rain. Tomorrow? Rain. Three days, five days, ten days? Rain every day.
We must be in Vancouver. And we are.
When I wrote my last blog post we were in Thunder Bay, in late October. Thunder Bay was warm, gritty and fun; like Sydney, NS, it’s the capital city of a little province that doesn’t actually exist. Northwestern Ontario is so far from what Canadians think of as “Ontario” that it really might as well be a separate province.
Thunder Bay has one of the largest Finnish communities outside Finland, so we opened our day there with Finnish pancakes at the Hoito co-op restaurant in the basement of the Finnish Labour Temple, courtesy of social work professor and food activist Connie Nelson. We ended the day with a Green Rights screening upstairs hosted by scholar/filmmaker Ron Harpelle. In between, Marjorie signed books at Chapters, while I spoke with one of Connie’s classes about Bhutan and the Bhutanese commitment to Gross National Happiness rather than Gross National Product. We kicked it off by viewing my TEDx talk on Bhutan, which you can see here.
The screening in the Labour Temple was beautiful, technically the best I’ve yet seen. The hall has a huge new screen and a crisp, clean sound system, which really showed the film to advantage. It was a pleasure to watch, and the audience included Bruce Hyer, the former MP and deputy leader of the Green Party, someone I’ve been looking forward to meeting.
We had been staying in Wal-Mart parking lots, using our own water and power – many thanks, Wal-Mart – and on our second night our onboard power supply failed. Happily, a few phone calls brought us to Woody’s Trailer World, who diagnosed the problem: dying “house” batteries, the ones that provide 12-volt electricity for the camper, not the ones that start the engine. Two hours later we were on our way, grateful to Woody’s.
It’s a long day’s drive from Thunder Bay to Winnipeg, even with a delicious lunch stop at Kokom’s Bannock Shack in Dryden for their unique Bannock Burgers. The next evening, at the University of Manitoba, I was honoured to have the film introduced by Rt. Hon. Ed Schreyer, former Governor-General, former High Commissioner to Australia.
As the first NDP premier of Manitoba, in 1970, Ed — who had read Rachel Carson and Barry Commoner — created the first government department in Canada responsible for the environment. He also hired Farley Mowat as his environmental adviser. Earlier in October, when I was visiting Farley’s home in Port Hope, I had seen the framed cheque for $1.00 from the Government of Manitoba, never cashed, which was his total compensation for the assignment.
The next day I delivered a Distinguished Visitor’s Lecture at the University of Manitoba Law School, after which we drove to Brandon for a family visit. The next day we drove all the way to Medicine Hat, stopping briefly in Regina to provide copies of Warrior Lawyers to Larry Kowalchuk, whose interview is included in it. In Medicine Hat, my son Mark and his wife Andi took us to the amazing badlands of the little-known Dinosaur Provincial Park, where the dogs gratefully went off-leash for the first time in many days.
We reached Calgary on Sunday, October 30, in time for Marjorie’s book signing at Chapters Shawnessy – where she sold out the store’s entire stock of Year of the Horse. That evening at the Unitarian Church in Calgary saw our final screening of Green Rights, followed by a fine discussion.
A trip like this in a 17-year-old motor home will have its challenges, and just west of Calgary the bus abruptly slowed down as its electrical system went crazy. We pulled over and called the Canadian Automobile Association, who assigned Big Hill Towing to send a huge tow truck from nearby Cochrane. The problem turned out to be a defunct alternator, but Dalas, the mechanic, also saw that the front air bags in the suspension system were completely worn out, which could have meant the loss of our air brakes. So we replaced those, too. Big Hill did a great job, and 24 hours later we were on our way to visit family in Canmore.
And next day, the Rockies – the day I had been fretting about all the way from Nova Scotia. Merlin handled the steep hills and twisting curves admirably, but just beyond Field, BC, the “Check Engine” light came on and our speed dropped to a crawl. I phoned Randy Pace, the manager of Big Hill in Cochrane.
Randy explained that when any sensor transmits a signal to the Check Engine light, the vehicle automatically goes into a “limping home” mode, slowing right down and preserving its basic functions, rather like a hypothermic body shutting down all but its core operations. The usual problem – and the simplest – would be that one of the fluids was low: the engine oil, transmission fluid or engine coolant. Check those first. Make sure they’re all up to the mark.
The coolant was low, and I had a couple of litres, so I poured them in. Rock ‘n’ roll! The light went out and the bus rolled on. up and down the mountain passes. And then, in Revelstoke, the light came on again, right in front of a gas station. I bought another jug of antifreeze, and topped up the coolant completely. Out went the light, and onward we sailed.
And then, in Salmon Arm, the light came on again.
I called Randy, and he made some calls to Salmon Arm. Meanwhile Google told me about a local outfit called Van Deursen Diesel – which turned out to be Randy’s recommendation too. It was a good choice: Van Deursen had a service truck out to us in 45 minutes, diagnosed the problem as a faulty “crank sensor” and booked us into their shop in the morning. Another night at the Wal-Mart, and by noon Van Deursen had sourced the part and installed it, and we were on our way. The Check Engine light never came on again.
On to Kamloops, and then a long climb and a steep descent into Merritt, where I threatened to feed the dogs to the bears. Another long climb and steep descent brought us to Hope at nightfall. A good sleep, and by the middle of the next day we were at the campsite on the Brunette River in Burnaby where we had reserved a long-term site many weeks before. It was five weeks to the day since we left Nova Scotia, and we had driven 6743 kilometers. In the 43 days between September 17 and October 30, we had done 38 events – book signings, lectures and film screenings — not counting media interviews. It had been by far the most memorable promotion tour of my life.
A bouquet of roses and chrysanthemums awaited us at check-in – a gift of welcome from my brother Ken and his lady.
Merlin rumbled over to his new home. We hooked up the power and water, enjoyed a meal, and tumbled into bed.
The rain was pattering on the roof. A week later, it hasn’t really stopped.
And the forecast is for rain.
Mi’kmaq Canoe Builder Connected for Thousands of Years
Todd Labrador is a respected and celebrated traditional Mi’kmaq canoe builder, in fact he’s the only one still practicing the craft. In this exclusive Green Interview he speaks with Silver Donald Cameron about the painstaking process involved in making the traditional birch bark canoes and how he hopes it will help to preserve the knowledge and worldview of his ancestors who lived sustainably on the east coast of Canada for millennia. Labrador is also an artist who paints and makes traditional drums decorated with designs derived from the ancient petroglyphs carved in the rocks of his Nova Scotia homeland.
Family History, Birch Bark Canoes, and Mi’kmaq Petroglyphs
Todd Labrador is a master canoe builder, artist, and drum maker. In this exclusive Green Interview, Labrador discusses the knowledge and inspiration he received from his ancestors, the process involved in making a birch bark canoe, and the Mi’kmaq petroglyphs that inspire some of his artwork.
In this exclusive interview with Todd Labrador we discuss:
Todd Labrador learned the ancient Mi’kmaq art of making birch bark canoes from his father Charlie Labrador, a respected leader and first chief of the Acadia First Nation who died in 2002. Though Charlie never made a canoe himself, he remembered the stories and how it was done by watching and listening to his own grandfather, Joe Jeremy Labrador, who raised him and died in 1961, a year before Todd was born. Joe Jeremy was a master canoe builder and Todd grew up hearing the stories about his great grandfather and became fascinated by them. Joe Jeremy continues to serve as Todd’s guide and inspiration.
Birch Bark Canoes
Todd Labrador’s father, Charlie was five years old when he remembers the last canoe being built by his grandfather Joe Jeremy. If it weren’t for Todd taking up the craft the tradition would likely have been lost. Charlie taught Todd that the birch bark had to be a certain quality and special thickness: about an eighth of an inch thick. “On most trees the bark is paper, so it’s a matter of finding the right thickness,” he explains, “and then you can build a canoe.” Charlie also taught Todd how to find and collect the right birch bark, dig up spruce tree roots, split them into long cords and how to bend wood, but Charlie had never actually made a canoe himself. His knowledge came from listening and watching his grandfather Joe Jeremy make canoes. While Todd was fascinated by the stories he needed some practical guidance and took canoe-building lessons from a German boat builder in Halifax. “It took a long time to gather the information and learn the skill because it’s difficult to learn how to bend a piece of wood from a book…it’s something you have to learn yourself and the material will teach you because if you’re not using that material with respect, it’ll break,” says Todd. Today some of his canoes are housed in several major museums in Canada and in France.
The largest collection of petroglyphs found in eastern North America are found at Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site. The Mi’kmaq have lived in what is now Nova Scotia for millennia and their culture and worldview are depicted in these slate rock carvings. The images of people, animals, hunting and fishing, and the decorative motifs of the time represent a culture and an art form. Todd Labrador etches replicas of Mi’kmaq petroglyphs as a way to keep the art form alive. “When I build canoes sometimes I’ll put them on the winter bark—the hunting scenes on my canoes and also when I make drums I’ll use the petroglyphs,” he explains. “It’s very important to us and when you really look at it, it’s an old, really old form of art but with our art today we’re keeping that tradition going.”
The north shore of Lake Superior is magnificent – great sweeping vistas of water interrupted by majestic islands, endless reaches of yellow and green forest, an aloof northern landscape made for trolls and giants and the music of Sibelius. And then there’s the towering Canada Goose statue at Wawa, an enormous folly asserting the presence of humanity in a terrain as vast and wild as any I’ve ever seen.
It was a long day, but it was a great drive from Wawa to Thunder Bay. And the two previous days were phenomenal in their colour, driving north from Toronto to Blind River through rolling farmlands and lakeside resorts, and then from Blind River to Wawa. Why Wawa? Because Wawa is famous: it’s the place where all the hitchhikers in the days of the hippies got stuck. They’d catch rides across the country, and then their drivers would drop them in Wawa – “and like, man, I was two days in Wawa standing on the side of the road with my thumb out.”
The place is legendary. But I wasn’t prepared for its stunning beauty, or for the quiet and comfortable campground tucked away on the Magpie River. And, to be truthful, I wasn’t really prepared for the hard frost that greeted me that morning. Late October, northwestern Ontario: it’s starting to get cold.
The last event in Toronto was exceptionally stimulating — a gathering of the current students and some of the alumni of the Corporate Social Responsibility Certificate program at the University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto. Imagine a room full of CSR professionals fastening upon one another — most of them are in moderately lonely circumstances within the organizations they work for — all of them eager to exchange insights, learn, look for fresh ways forward. They loved the Green Rights film, and engaged in a crackling discussion afterwards. It was a grand finale to our ten days in the Toronto area.
And so onward to Thunder Bay, just about half-way between Halifax and Vancouver: 2800 kilometers behind us, 3000 to go. In terms of events, however, it’s well over half-way. Since September, Green Rights has been screened nine times, with three more to go; I’ve done nine seminars and class presentations, with three more to go; Marjorie has done 12 bookstore signings and readings, with two more to go.
Right this minute, Marjorie is signing books at the Chapters store on Memorial Drive in Thunder Bay. We’ll be screening Green Rights in the Finnish Labour Temple in Thunder Bay tomorrow evening at 7:00. On Wednesday night, October 26 under the auspices of the University of Manitoba Faculty of Law, we’ll be screening the film in Room 200, Robson Hall, 224 Dysart Road in Winnipeg.
And after that, Calgary! Stay tuned for more details of the Alberta events. And then we’ll be in BC for the winter, organizing additional events on the west coast.
A rainy Sunday in Brampton, Ontario – part of a huge sprawl of malls, warehouses, factories and freeways spilling westward from Toronto. We’re in the Indian Line Campground, the closest one to downtown Toronto, but it’s not very close – about half an hour with light traffic, much more in busy periods. It’s a good base for the screenings and presentations I’ve been doing and will be doing over the next few days.
Tomorrow, Monday the 17th, is our screening of Green Rights in Waterloo. It’s at 7:00 PM in Room EV2-2002 at the University of Waterloo.
Tuesday, the 18th, we’re at the University of Guelph. I’ll be meeting with a management class from 4:00 to 5:20, and then at 7:00 we’ll have the public screening at 103 Rozanski Hall.
Wednesday, the 19th, I’m speaking and showing the film to participants and alumni of the University of St. Michael’s College (University of Toronto) certificate program in Corporate Social Responsibility. This is a private event.
Thursday, the 20th, Merlin the Marvellous Motorhome turns north, bound for Thunder Bay and more presentations and screenings on Monday, the 24th.
Update: Port Hope and Toronto
We left Kingston on Saturday the 8th, in time for me to read at a civic memorial for Farley Mowat. Farley’s monument in the town he lived in for 47 years is a overturned boat, a boat-roofed dwelling – a replica (as close as
possible) of the vessels sailed by the Albans from Europe to the Canadian Arctic a thousand years ago. Did this actually happen? Nobody really knows. In The Farfarers, Farley made a persuasive argument that the Albans (whose name persists in names like Albion, Albania, St. Alban’s, and the like) were a pre-Viking people who overwintered under their inverted boats, and left behind them the outlines of the boats in the form of rock walls. It’s a lovely story, and it makes a great monument. After decades on a back street, the monument was being moved to a place of honour on the Ganaraska River, just opposite the public library.
The re-location was marked by two days of celebrations, including a reading in the library by three writers: Claire Mowat, Ken McGoogan (himself a distinguished writer on Arctic matters) and me. Claire read a very funny account of a library board meeting in an Newfoundland outport; Ken read a thoughtful and moving tribute to Mowat as his literary ancestor; and I ready a profile of Farley from 1979. “Farley Mowat, Prophet” appeared in Atlantic Insight, and won a National Magazine Award. If you’re curious, you’ll find it here: http://silverdonaldcameron.ca/farley-mowat-prophet
The following day, Marjorie had a book-signing at one of the most attractive independent bookstores in Canada, Furby House Books – whose proprietor, Lou Pamenter, also wanted copies of my book. So Furby House is the only bookstore in the world that’s carrying Warrior Lawyers. Otherwise you have to buy it online, either from TheGreenInterview.com or from Amazon.
Then Toronto, in time for a Thanksgiving dinner with family, and, on Wednesday the 12th, the only public screening in Toronto, at the Heliconian Hall, a charming old former church that since 1923 has been the home of the Heliconian Club, a club for women in arts and letters. (The club itself dates back to 1909.) The hall is charming, and the crowd, though small, engaged passionately with the film, which made for a lively question-and-answer session afterward.
In the audience was a pioneering environmental professor from the University of Toronto, Lino Grima, who later wrote to commend “your really spellbinding documentary… The photography is stunning and the message is clear. Your movie is a good example of what I would like to see more — a story line that goes from issue to protest to legal remedy/political pressure to establishing the rights to clean land, water and air. ”
How nice is that?
On Friday, the 14th, I was a luncheon guest and then made a presentation on Warrior Lawyers to students and faculty at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University. The students were so smart, savvy and engaged that I almost found myself homesick for the classroom. A personal point: when I was young, my mother thought I should be a lawyer – and dreamed that I might go to Osgoode Hall. So it was a pleasure to get there, at last – I’d never been before – and to dedicate that presentation to my mother, wherever she is now.
Wow. Just … wow.
That’s the best word I know to describe the splendid audience reaction to the Green Rights film. People love it! They love the stories, love the hopefulness, love the pace, love the use of folk-art and folk-music to mark the transitions from one story to another. Canadians don’t know these international success stories, and they’re generally thrilled to learn about them. Successes in the Philippines, the Netherlands, Argentina and elsewhere give Canadians hope for success in their own battles.
“I really enjoyed the film,” wrote one viewer, “and marveled at your way with hope-filled yet alarming stories of green resistance.” Great. That’s just what we had in mind.
We’ve now shown the film in Wolfville, Halifax, Antigonish, Ottawa (with a reception at the private dining room of the Speaker of the Senate, see the attached photo) and Kingston. We’ve had great discussions after the screenings, mainly about the film’s contents and about what these stories mean for Canadians. Another big thread in the conversations, though, is how to get this film into wider circulation? Is it going to be on TV? Will you be showing it at festivals? Could I arrange a screening for my own church/class/organization? Can I stream it on the internet?
And the answer is, broadly, Yes! We haven’t yet had time to submit to festivals and broadcasters, but after this tour is finished we will. And yes, of course we’ll provide it to people who want to arrange additional screenings. We don’t yet have an established mechanism for that, but if you’d like to sponsor a screening, send me a message and I’ll get back to you when we put that together.
And yes, you can stream Green Rights on the internet. Just go to www.TheGreenInterview.com and take out a free one-month trial subscription. That gives you access to everything on the site for a month, including the film and all the interviews collected in my new Warrior Lawyers book. At the end of the month, if you don’t want to continue the subscription, you can cancel with no further obligation. We hope you won’t, of course, but that’s up to you. And yes, you can buy Warrior Lawyers there too. Or on Amazon.
I also urge you to like the GreenRightsFilm page on Facebook, or to befriend me there. I say this because I’m trying to make more and more use of Facebook Live to report on our progress across the country in Merlin the Marvellous Motorhome. I’m still just getting the hang of Facebook Live, but it’s a terrific tool for real-time reporting in video, perfect for a trip like this one.
The next public screening of GreenRights is in Toronto on October 12th, at the Heliconian Hall at 35 Hazelton Street in Yorkville. If you haven’t had a chance to see the film, there’s a trailer here. It’s a little out of date, but it gives you a really good feel for the film.
So if you’re in Toronto, please spread the word about the screening next Wednesday – and please come!
After that — and after a couple of university events in Toronto — the motorhome tour proceeds to public screenings in Waterloo on the 17th , Guelph on the 18th and Thunder Bay on the 24th. The details are in the calendar at www.TheGreenInterview.com. I hope we’ll catch you somewhere!
I’m standing in this gorgeous auditorium that seats 350 or 400, and most of the seats are full, climbing up in rows and ranks to the roof. I’m being introduced – very warmly – by Dr. Jonathan Langdon, Canada Research Chair in Sustainability and Social Change Leadership. I’ve done presentations to a couple of classes. But right now, in this beautiful venue, we’re about to screen the Green Rights film. The lights dim. The music comes up. And the film – which Chris Beckett has just polished one last time – looks absolutely stunning on this big screen.
This was St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia last Wednesday, at a screening sponsored by several university departments, including the Coady International Institute, and organized by Jeff Parker of the Antigonish International Film Festival. The Festival isn’t until mid-October, but Jeff and his team wanted to show our new film before we left on our national tour – so they set up this special pre-Festival presentation.
We had a little trouble getting there. I dropped the Merlin the motorhome into a deep pothole in a parking lot in New Glasgow, tearing off one of its jacks and breaking the air dryer in the braking system. You may have seen my Facebook Livecast from the roadside, where we were stuck with no brakes – and towing us away needed an industrial-level tow truck. Merlin is 34 feet long, after all, and weighs many tons. Happily, the breakdown occurred just down the hill from the Nova Truck Centre, who sent down a mechanic to patch the brakes up so that we could take Merlin to their shop. There he stayed for the rest of that day – while Marjorie signed books in Antigonish – and part of the next day, but in the end Merlin was better than ever.
The Antigonish screening was followed by a vigorous question-and-answer and some very pleasant socializing over book sales. The next morning, Marjorie and I and the dogs went home to D’Escousse for one mad day of sorting and packing, closing up the house for the winter and preparing to hit the road with Merlin. Yesterday we got away in mid-morning, ending up in a truck stop in Rusagonis, just outside Fredericton. Today, we hope, we’ll stop somewhere around Trois Rivieres, Quebec. And tomorrow we’ll be in Ottawa, preparing for the big premiere on Tuesday.
Tuesday’s events will begin with a 5:00 reception on Parliament Hill hosted by the Speaker of the Senate and featuring Nova Scotia lobster paired with Nova Scotia’s Tidal Bay wine. The guest list includes representatives from many of Canada’s major environmental and civil society organizations as well as MPs, Senators and parliamentary staffers. Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has said she wants to attend.
Then, at 7:00 in the Pearson Ballroom of the Lord Elgin Hotel, with our partners from the Sierra Club Canada Foundation, we’ll show the film to an audience that we hope will respond as warmly as the audiences in Wolfville, Halifax and Antigonish. We hope our Ottawa audience will influence the government to consider that Canada is among only a dozen countries in the world that do not recognize the rights of their citizens to clean air and water, and healthy food. We hope the audience — and the government — will feel that it’s time to give Canadians the rights that are enjoyed by the citizens of more than 180 countries around the world.
That’s what this tour is all about: getting Canadians the right to a cleaner, greener world. So spread the word, and wish us luck!