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Heigh ho and a mob arises: Memories of a night in Middle West Pubnico, Nova Scotia

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – The destruction and terror of mob violence in West Pubnico last October exposed a shocking deficit in our social ‘course’ as a province. Did we Nova Scotians linger in the shock waves of that hatred long enough,letting our sails flap so that the next wind we catch sets a true course for justice and treaty rights? 

What goes through your mind now when you see “Nova Scotia Strong?” Does the tartan stir your heart? Does a faint but nagging despair in your train of thought slip from Covid, to Portapique and into the watery graves with snowbirds and helicopters? Do you remember kneeling at the corner of Spring Garden and Summer Streets for nine minutes? Questions on these stolen lands, from Africville to Pubnico keep spilling out of the political spinners. 

‘Nova Scotia Strong’ can be a kind of ‘handle’ for trauma. In Social Media, a handle is a way for people to identify you and to communicate with you. Maybe we feel ‘Nova Scotia Strong’ communicates who we are and who we want to be – resilient, caring and protecting one another. However, as a handle for trauma, using ‘Nova Scotia Strong’ can do the opposite and weaken us. When something happens to us such as an event that is traumatic, we run for this cover and there is the temptation to rest there and avoid witnessing. The handle does help us to make sense of the confusion and difficulty, and we embrace that aspect, particularly for children. “Nova Scotia Strong” can be a respite from change that can bring unnecessary fear. There is no denying that it is complicated. 

However,in Living a Femininist Life, Sara Ahmed uses the term false consciousness to describe this process of taking cover behind the handle, of learning not to be conscious of what is right in front of us. Even while witnessing mob action, burning, destruction of property and life threatening racist terror in Pubnico and New Edinburgh (and beyond) that silence breathes life into the lies. 

I have lived in small communities all my life and knowing your neighbour and knowing ‘what’s going on” is a small town convention. And if memory serves me right, this is particularly annoying when you are a teenager! Moving around has not given me the cherished depth of roots that I see in the histories of the peoples that grace this land, but like most people, I have a sense of how a small town works. On Oct. 13 last year, reports indicated that RCMP officers stood by as 200 people interfered with Mi’kmaw fisherfolk. That mob was 200 individuals that did not appear out of thin fog. They ate their supper, put on their coats and boots and no one stopped them at the door. Fathers didn’t stop their foolish sons. Mothers turned the other way and sisters nodded to get approval. Shopkeepers tallied their books in customer numbers for and against to justify refusing sales. Church leaders knew. Teachers knew. Neighbors turned on neighbours whose histories are still as tangled as the fishing twine of the sinking lobster traps.

The Mi’kmaw fishery will begin on June 1 by Sipekne’katik in Saulnierville, St. Mary’s Bay. DFO has declared that fishing outside the commercial DFO established season will not be allowed and will be prosecuted. The DFO is in violation of Treaty law. Now, it may be foolish to imagine that the RCMP would arrest Bernadette Jordan, but grappling with what is fair and what is foolish changed with that angry October mob. Together we can show determination for justice that includes reparations and Treaty rights. Can we live up to Rita’s lyrics and cradle the future softly, going ‘down to the sea with our fortune in our eyes like a dream’? What will it take to win ‘our hearts over with a feeling of peace’ on the dock in Saulnierville and St. Mary’s Bay here in Nova Scotia on the first of June?

See also: Nova Scotia Goddam

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