Charlie Dennis’ Oyster Garden–Chapel Island Mission

Last August I received a call from my close friend Noel J. Gould saying he had a story he wanted to share with me. I think it’s very important to share it now because of events that have taken place. Noel had grave concerns about the conditions on Chapel Island, especially where his cabin and the great majority of the cabins are located on the east end of the Island. Over the years the area has been prone to flooding and sea level rise.

noel After talking to other Elders, the last five years have gotten worse with storm surges and, in one instance, water almost got to the church. I told Noel that this problem is not an isolated one and it is happening around the world. Then he asked me, “What can we do about it, Charlie?”

Before I could give him an answer, Noel commented, “Have I got a story for you! We might resolve our problems by asking for help from Saint Anne.”

While we were talking, Noel stood up and pulled a photograph from the corner of the kitchen and laid it on the table. I recalled seeing this photo before at key locations, such as Band offices around Unama’ki. It was an aerial photo taken from a small plane by a photographer from Eskasoni, Derrick Denny.

The photo was given to Noel as a gift a few years back from a family member.

Chapel Island photoNoel started his story by telling me that he just got back from the Chapel Island Mission and while he was there, after the Feast, he decided to lay down for a while to rest a bit until he picked up his energy again. While he lay there, his granddaughter ran in and tied a ribbon on his leg saying, “This will help you with all your pain, Grand Dad.” Noel had major surgery a few months before and he wasn’t healing as much as he hoped. He was used to being active. Noel’s granddaughter kept repeating, “This ribbon will help you, Grand Dad. See, Grand Dad, I have one on my ankle too and all the other kids are wearing ribbons too.”

I knew the significance of these ribbons but Noel explained how and why they originated. Before the celebrations begin, women from the Grand Council take sheets of cloth and thoroughly clean the statue of Saint Anne for display during the holy service. After the service, the cloths are cut into strips and distributed to everyone that requires help or want one for somebody else. After his explanation Noel told me that the words of his granddaughter fascinated him. “ Grand Dad, this ribbon will help you.”

All of sudden Noel dug up a bag he had on the table and he pointed to me. “Charlie Joe, look at this photo and show me where the main problems are.” It was easy for me to point to the photo and, every time I pointed, Noel would place a ribbon on the spot.  Apparently he borrowed the ribbons from all his grandchildren.

Noel explained that all the children wear these ribbons all year and they get a new one at the next Mission. “So you see, Charlie Joe, these ribbons are very important to the young people and we have to save this Island for them. It’s their future.”

After a lengthy discussion he asked, “With all the work UINR is doing in Malikewe’j, and after saving the cemetery, can you do something for Chapel Island?” My answer was, “With the help that is on this table, we can give it a Mi’kmaq prayer and with help from Saint Anne we might be able to succeed.”chapel island (1)

I was speaking to Noel today and told him I was going to do this story and also gave him some good news. The first phase of a project was approved to do a study on all First Nations communities in Unama’ki including Chapel Island and Malikewe’j.

I explained that the project will be done in phases over a couple of years.The first phase would see discussion with community members and some of this discussion has already been done with Elders, some members of the Grand Council, and Unama’ki Chiefs. Maps, reports, some photos and actual plans from each community have already been collected.

R. J. Daigle Enviro are environmental consultants who specialize in climate change and they have been hired to do the initial work mapped out in our proposal. This company has done successful projects with First Nations communities in New Brunswick and come highly recommended. They will determine how quickly the banks of the Island are eroding. Another company will take aerial photographs from a small plane using a technology called LiDAR to make high-resolution maps.

This part of the project is scheduled to be completed before the end of summer at all the sites. We will use the information collected to predict how sea level rise is going to impact our lands.

chapel island 2Once all the data is collected, at the end of the first year, the team will be able to show us what these areas looked like a long time ago, what it looks now, and what it will look like in the future. After all this information is computerized and evaluated it, will help us develop an adaptation strategy for the areas that will be affected by climate change. Among the team members that will be involved in this project are Mi’kmaq technicians including Guardians from our communities and staff from UINR. The successful candidate for UINR’s job posting for a project coordinator for this Climate Change Adaptation Project was Pie’l Lalo Paul from Eskasoni.

When I was talking to Noel, he commented that these holy ribbons are very important to our people. “Charlie Joe, people travel from great distances to come down and celebrate the feast day activities but also to get a ribbon. I know one person that comes all the way from Boston just to get a ribbon. For years she has made this journey. Charlie Joe ji’j keep me updated on this project!”