The First Nations Self Government Summit in Halifax added a talking circle on how First Nations leaders can address the issues of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls after lobbying by a group of Mi’kmaw women.
On Tuesday, while addressing delegates on the first day of the three-day summit, Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Regional Chief Morley Googoo announced he’d made the addition to the agenda following a conversation with the family of Cassidy Bernard.
Bernard, a 22-year-old Mi’kmaw woman, was found dead at her home in We’koqma’q First Nation in October and police have classified her death as suspicious.
« When I looked at the agenda, I was really upset, » said Annie Bernard-Daisley, Cassidy Bernard’s first cousin.
« I didn’t see any sort of arena for a discussion on missing and murdered Indigenous women. When I went to Morley, I said ‘We need a venue,’ and it was done. »
Bernard-Daisley, a We’koqma’q band councillor and board member of the Native Women’s Association of Nova Scotia (NSNWA), said she was disappointed that the issues facing Indigenous women in Canada weren’t considered first at an event focused on First Nations self-determination.
A matter of urgency
Delegates were invited to discuss the issues and share experiences at a talking circle scheduled for mid-afternoon Wednesday. The session fit the format of the summit, which was aimed at gathering and provoking ideas on self-determination in Mi’kma’ki, the territory of the Mi’kmaq.
Annie Bernard-Daisley of We’koqma’q First Nation is Cassidy Bernard’s first cousin. (Nic Meloney/CBC)
« I can’t describe the overwhelming urgency there is to discuss this matter, » said Bernard-Daisley.
« Especially in an arena filled with national leaders, political leaders, all the chiefs and councils across the Maritimes. All of us have to work together. »
Cassidy Bernard’s death was within a week of that of another young Mi’kmaw woman, Candace Stevens, whose death is being treated as a homicide. Both were mothers to young children.
Bernard-Daisley says it’s not just Cassidy’s death that’s driving her advocacy — it’s how she lived.
« How she took the world on and how she represented herself, that’s carrying over to me, » she said.
« She’s with me all day long. I feel that fight in her. And I will do that for her, and ask everyone to do that for her. It’s not only her we’re fighting for. We’re fighting for them all. »
Including women’s voices
The talking circle was also a way to emphasize women’s voices, which were lacking at the summit, said Lorraine Whitman, president of Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association (NSNWA) and secretary of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC).
Lorraine Whitman, president of Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association and secretary of Native Women’s Association of Canada. (Nic Meloney/CBC)
« We’re included, in my mind, only as a token, » said Whitman. « We’re here but we’re not participating at the tables. »
We’re included, in my mind, only as a token– Lorraine Whitman
Whitman, who helped Bernard-Daisley co-ordinate the talking circle, said she thinks the adversity facing Indigenous women is the result of the patriarchal system imposed on First Nations by Canada.
She said the underrepresentation of women in political leadership is an indicator that more needs to be done for Indigenous women to achieve self-determination.
« Our creator has us mirrored as equal, » she said.
« Our women were companions to the men in the physical, … in spirituality but also in the governance. Along the way, that’s been missing. »
Traditional role in decision making
Karen Pictou, executive director of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association, said better supporting Mi’kmaw women translates to better healthier Mi’kmaw communities.
« We are the keepers of our family, we are the glue of our communities, » she said.
« Any time there’s a crisis, it’s our grassroots women that show up and take care of each other. »
Karen Pictou, executive director of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association. (Nic Meloney/CBC)
Pictou said she wants First Nations leaders to consider the roles of Mi’kmaw women traditionally. She said they’ve always been sought to provide the « emotional component » necessary in sound decision making.
Media were asked not to attend the talking circle. Dozens of delegates attended but CBC confirmed none of the chiefs from Atlantic communities were in attendance except for Morley Googoo, who attended the last five to 10 minutes.
Bernard-Daisley, Whitman and Pictou said that a hopeful result of this week’s summit would be a regional effort to make space in the political realm for First Nations women.
They said they will be drafting a summary of what was learned during the talking circle.
Summit organizers said a report on the findings and results of the summit will be released, but could not provide a timeline.
Health Canada says in light of « troubling allegations, » its scientists are reviewing hundreds of studies used during the approval process for glyphosate, the active ingredient in Canada’s most popular herbicide, Roundup.
The decision comes after a coalition of environmental groups claimed Health Canada relied on studies that were secretly influenced by agrochemical giant Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, when it re-approved use of glyphosate in 2015 and confirmed that decision in 2017.
The coalition, which includes Equiterre, Ecojustice, Canadian Physicians for the Environment and others, says academic papers looking at whether the herbicide causes cancer were presented to Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency as independent, when in fact Monsanto had a hand in writing them.
At the time, Health Canada decided the risks of glyphosate to human health were acceptable, if used as directed in updated product labels. Now it’s taking another look.
« Health Canada scientists are currently reviewing hundreds of studies to assess whether the information justifies a change to the original decision, or the use of a panel of experts not affiliated with Health Canada, » the health agency told CBC-Radio Canada in an email response to the coalition’s claims.
But Sidney Ribaux, the head of Equiterre, isn’t satisfied.
He says Health Canada should launch an independent review immediately and suspend use of the herbicide, which is commonly applied to corn, soy, wheat and oats, as well as chickpeas and other pulses.
« This does not in any way meet our demands. Health Canada approved a dangerous product based … on these studies. »
The coalition’s contention that Monsanto had an uncredited role in producing some of the studies comes from court documents made public in the case of Dewayne « Lee » Johnson.
A judge upheld the verdict last month, although Johnson’s payout was slashed to $78 million US.
The documents filed in the case, including emails between Monsanto and scientific experts, have become known as the Monsanto Papers. The revelations they contain have received worldwide attention.
Plaintiff Dewayne Johnson, seen here during his trial on July 9, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2014 at age 42. A former pest control manager at a San Francisco-area school district, he blames exposure to glyphosate for his illness. (Josh Edelson/Reuters)
The coalition of Canadian groups says those documents prove that important scientific studies were either co-written or reviewed and edited by Monsanto without properly disclosing the company’s role.
« Monsanto has been playing around with scientific studies, » said Equiterre’s Ribaux. « [It’s] making these studies look like they are independent, when in fact they were written or heavily influenced by Monsanto.
« What we found is that some of these studies were key in the Government of Canada’s decision to give a permit to Monsanto to continue selling glyphosate in Canada.
« Obviously this is very problematic. »
In a statement to CBC, Monsanto says it has an « unwavering commitment to sound science transparency » and did not try to influence scientific outcomes in any way.
The company says in each case where it sponsored a scientific article, that information was disclosed.
U.S. plaintiff calls for more testing
Lee Johnson, the plaintiff in the landmark American case, wants to see glyphosate research re-evaluated and expanded.
« Hopefully the conversation is big enough to where they have to do more testing, more research, » Johnson told CBC-Radio-Canada in an exclusive interview during a recent visit to Toronto.
Johnson said he was thrilled to win his suit, but he knows his fight is far from over. He expects years of appeals.
I’m not scared to die. You know, but if I have to die, at least I’ll die for something.– Dewayne « Lee » Johnson
Monsanto, now owned by German-based Bayer AG, has already announced its intention to appeal the ruling. Bayer now faces more than 8,000 lawsuits in the U.S. over its glyphosate-based products.
In a post on its website last month, Monsanto said it continues « to believe that the liability verdict and damage awards are not supported by the evidence at trial or the law. »
The company told CBC-Radio Canada « its product is safe and has been used successfully for more than 40 years. »
It also says there is an extensive body of research on glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides, including more than 800 studies required by regulators in Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere, that confirms these products are safe when used as directed.
Many government regulators, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2017, have determined there is no conclusive link between glyphosate and cancer.
But the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded in 2015 that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen.
Johnson, who sprayed Roundup and a similar Monsanto product, Ranger Pro, as part of his job as a groundskeeper at a San Francisco Bay Area school district, says he has found a certain consolation in his struggle against Monsanto.
« I was there to defend the truth, » he said. « I’m not scared to die. You know, but if I have to die, at least I’ll die for something. »