HALIFAX – Hollywood actor Ethan Hawke lent some star power to environmentalists and First Nations groups in Nova Scotia who are calling for a ban on offshore drilling in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence.
On Monday, the Academy Award nominee joined the chiefs of the Paq’tnkek First Nation and the Mi’kmaq of Gespe’gewa’gi along with the Save our Seas and Shores Coalition to call for a 12-year moratorium in the Gulf.
“Water is more valuable than oil. This water is our greatest resource,” Hawke told reporters.
The actor has a house in Monastery, N.S. and has been visiting the area for 20 years. Hawke was asked to attend the event by the First Nations groups and said protecting the Gulf is personal.
“I’m sure some people are wondering what I’m doing here. I’m largely here as your neighbour and your friend and a friend to this area,” he said.
“The one thing I can do as the one actor in the community is to sit next to really educated people who are working extremely hard to protect this beautiful water.”
Hawke participated in a water ceremony on the waterfront, which involved prayers and offerings by Mi’kmaq elders as the sound of traditional drums and the smell of burning sweetgrass filled the air.
Held each season, it honours the Mi’kmaq people’s relationship with the water, the fish, the land, and their resources.
WATCH: Actor and celebrity Ethan Hawke lent his star power to the call against oil and gas development in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. It’s an issue of particular interest to First Nations groups in Nova Scotia. Julia Wong reports.
Hawke said he trusts the judgment of the First Nations who have long lived in the area.
“I believe in the Mi’kmaq ability to decide what is best for this land. They earned that right not just by inhabiting this land for thousands of years but for the way they’ve cared for that water. I trust their judgment about what is best for this area, for the earth, for the land, for the people and for the water.”
First Nations chiefs said oil should not be given more priority than the environment.
“We demand the race to drill in the Gulf be stopped,” said Chief P.J. Prosper of the Paq’tnkek First Nation.
“Canadians and our Nations must be heard. No drilling without the proper assessment. The social good demands this. The Atlantic fisheries, our economy, our ecosystem must take precedence over oil.”
Chief Scott Martin of the Mi’kmaq Government said water is sacred for the First Nations people.
“We are all a treaty people. We all hold the sacred responsibility to take care of the lands and resources, not only for ourselves but for future generations as Mi’kmaq people,” he said.
“I’ve often thought if the water could have a voice here at this table what would she say? What would she say about the treatment and the neglect that people hold towards these invaluable and finite resources. So I ask you here today to please consider this very special meaning that water has for us, for all of us and the future generations that it supports.”
Mary Gorman, spokesperson from Save Our Seas and Shores Coalition, said marine protection is weak in Canada right now and more must be done to protect the Gulf’s fragile ecosystem.
“It has counterclockwise currents that only flush into the Atlantic once a year. It is windy with ice cover. It sustains multi-billion dollar fishery and tourism industries and has among the largest lobster production in the world,” she said.
Martin said he hopes the new Trudeau government will be receptive to their concerns.
“When they came campaigning at our doors, they say ‘We’re here to work with you’ and ‘Anything we can do to help you?’ This will be one of their first tests they will be challenged with because of the fact we’ve been trying to stop this for many years now,” he said.
“Now is the time to step up to the plate.”
Cape Breton-Canso MP Rodger Cuzner, who was in attendance at the event, said prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau is committed to a new relationship with First Nations communities.
“It is the early days now. We don’t know who is going to end up at the portfolio but it’s one that Atlantic caucus members that have been around the table for a while are very aware of,” he said.
A spokesperson for Central Nova MP Sean Fraser told Global News that Fraser will bring the issue to the attention of the minister in charge.
“Because of the importance of the fishery and the environment, he will make this concern an early priority once taking office,” reads the statement sent to Global News.
Hawke said he’s glad his celebrity drew media to cover the event. But he also downplayed his participation.
“I know the real difference will be made in other rooms,” he said. “It’s just an opportunity to talk about it . . I was invited to be a part of this so I take it seriously.”
– with files from CP