INTERVIEW: Re-awakening Community with Nuskmata

Spring is a time of renewal, and on coastal territories, communities are eagerly awaiting herring eggs and oolichan grease. For Nuskmata (Jacinda Mack – second from left in above photo), from Secwepemc and Nuxalk, the season is a reawakening for community, harvesting medicines and nurturing relationships. 

For RAVEN’s “In Conversation” series via Instagram, we spoke with Nuskmata about her work supporting Indigneous ways of life, governance and food security. She is a community organizer, researcher and advocate on environmental protection issues, including critical response to the 2014 Mount Polley Mine Disaster. Nuskmata was a part of a coalition of women leaders advocating mining reform in B.C, First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining (FNWARM).

Today, she serves as Executive Director of the Moccasin Footprint Society, a small Indigenous charity that supports Indigenous Knowledge, Rights and Way of Life. She is also Coastal First Nations Guardian Watchmen Support Coordinator and continues to consult on mining and Indigenous rights and title in Canada. She lives in the mountains of the northwest coast of Canada, where she continues to salmon fish, hunt, and gather traditional foods with her family.

You can watch the full conversation here.

RAVEN: What does it mean for you to advocate for both the environment and ways of life on the land?

There is blood memory in our bodies, our bodies are built from this land and our connection is strong. It’s really important that people understand it comes back to water and the health of the land, the air and the earth. We had the Mount Polley Mine disaster in this territory here in 2014 and that really woke a lot of people up around water issues here especially in the Cariboo region. These watersheds are all connected, the Mount Polley disaster happened in salmon birthing waters for the Fraser River and people were questioning how will this impact the salmon and our ability to fish? There is so much more that comes with salmon, it’s more than just protein on a plate. It’s about our relationships, ceremony, and place names. 

What does free prior and informed consent (FPIC) on the land look like in the every day?

This is an important conversation we need to have on the ground. FPIC is about having an open, respectful, reciprocal and trusting relationship. We can learn from that by practicing it in our everyday lives. Governments and corporations act like they never heard the word consent before. At the most basic level it’s about checking in. I’ve been reviewing FPIC documents and see companies say they want to operationalize consent which makes me sick. Would you do that in a personal relationship? Language matters, it’s an expression of what you believe. It’s important for us to center our values and teachings with our own people and the external world.

Our communities have been impacted for hundreds of years, and compassion and consent is the foundation for change because it is the opposite of colonial oppression. 

How can people begin to repair relationships in their every day by incorporating those values and understand consent to the land, water and community? 

It really comes down to self awareness and having meaningful conversations where you need to explain responsibility and reciprocity. Try to get mining companies to explain how they thought dumping processed mine water into aquifers is a good idea, explain to me how that is responsible? 

Understanding those values is a part of having a healthy relationship with the land. The land is a healing place to be, for the land to know you and for you to know the land is a fundamental relationship. 

Everything that we need to survive comes from the land. The more you can be connected, whether it is taking up gardening or going for walks, to be completely present, is a powerful thing. 

What continues to energize you in the work you do and your relationships?

It’s really been a time of reflection with COVID-19 and the loss of my partner this year. I feel blessed that I get to work with people who care about the land and their communities. I watch what is happening across different nations, Mohawk and Anishnabeg territory, people coming back to ceremony and their own original laws, it’s really powerful. People want to know where they are from. 

All of our stories and stories on the land are all love stories. Last summer we had the saying, “smokehouse tired” for when you are on your feet for 18 hours each day working in the smoke house. That hard work is a labor of love, putting that hard work into our relationships and into the land is love. 

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