#Elsipogtog: Fighting With Fire, For Water

#Elsipogtog: Fighting With Fire, For Water

by Tyson Kelsall, Culture Editor

 The title to this article is possibly pre-emptive, as the details are still being smoothed out over which member of which group torched the six RCMP cars in Rexton, New Brunswick, traditional Mi’Kmaq territory. It does not really matter though, either a Mi’kmaw warrior set them ablaze, risking their life and many liberties to protect the land and water over allowing a fracking operation to develop; or, it was caused by the RCMP side, meaning they did it to discredit the peaceful protests which had been happening.  The core of this story remains the same: there was a group of peaceful protesters fighting to safeguard their sovereign land and demand consultation (a legal right that is constitution-bound) until a group of 60 or more heavily armed RCMP officers descended on the encampment with intentions to raid it while wearing riot gear.

 There is a video on the internet, pulled together by the activists and comedians at www.ShitHarperDid.ca, showing the RCMP officers pepper-spraying and shooting ‘non-lethal’ bullets at the protesters. It is titled “The last 48 hours tell us a lot about the next 2 years in Canada.” There are some key points about this situation stemming from the possibility that finding shale gas in the area would lead to fracking by a company called Irving Oil. Irving Oil is a company based in Houston, Texas, meaning that when the tax funded RCMP marched down to the Mi’kmaq blockade to disperse its members, it was doing so for the sake of a foreign investment. Our national police force came down with the intention to protect foreign interests and fracking over clean water and a group of First Nations people of Canada. Fracking is a hugely contested method of resource extraction. Fracking takes up an incredible amount of water; some communities like Barnhart, Texas have literally run out of water due to this practice. On top of that, it is done by an incredibly dangerous method of making the earth crack while shooting chemicals (many unstudied ones) underground. Although the sides of a well hypothetically protect groundwater, if there is a single break then the groundwater is instantly contaminated. There are many other potential issues that have yet to be researched.

 Some have said that what has happened at Elsipogtog has been building up for a long time. The Canadian government continues to ignore Aboriginal rights and acts as a colonizing body. Just last week during the Speech from the Throne, it was said that “[Pioneers] forged an independent country where none would have otherwise existed.” A couple of days after the incident, Premier Alward pledged to continue to develop a shale gas industry in the province of New Brunswick. Last year, the uprisings of Idle No More swept the country. We saw the appalling living conditions of people in Attawapiskat. These are the big events, the ones that get attention, but they are hardly the tip of the iceberg. What about Fort Nelson First Nations in Northeast British Columbia who have had to deal with shale gas exploration non-stop over the last years? What about Harper’s continued support (including monetary support) for the Northern Gateway pipeline crossing mostly over First Nations’ land (and vehemently opposed to by many bands)? What about the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s fight against tar sands expansion as their land continues to be irreparably degraded? The Beaver Lake Cree versus the tar sands in court? The Unist’ot’en Camp that has removed Pacific Trails Pipeline workers? The list goes on, and it certainly makes one wonder whether these First Nations’ bands that are standing up are having their land exploited primarily as a form of oppression, or, if they are the only ones who care about the planet and future generations, either way, their right to consultation and land rights are being thrown right out the window.

 Consultation? Land rights? In most disciplines of the Canadian educational institutions, we do not learn much about these things, instead we learn to celebrate the so-called ‘pioneers.’ Enshrined in section 35 of the Canadian constitution of 1982:

 (1) The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.

(2) In this Act, “aboriginal peoples of Canada” includes the Indian, Inuit, and Metis peoples of Canada.

(3) For greater certainty, in subsection (1) “treaty rights” includes rights that now exist by way of land claims agreements or may be so acquired.

These were even more strongly enforced come 1990, in the famous Sparrow case, where it was stated that, “The constitutional recognition afforded by the provision [35.1] therefore gives a measure of control over government conduct and a strong check on legislative power.”

This does infer that the Mi’kwaq were not only standing up for the land, which is something I look up to them for, but also for a right afforded to them by the Canadian government, before the riot squad came in. What is going on in Elsipogtog is certainly not over; forty people were arrested, and reinforcements are coming for both the protesters and the RCMP. What happens over the next week will certainly tell us a lot about what will happen over the next few years as finite resources become more scarce and as clean water becomes more of a commodity than a basic right. It tells us a lot about our governments’ taste towards First Nations’ rights. I certainly hope that when resource-based corporations start looking beyond treaty and non-ceded lands, non-First Nations people also stand up for the future. Moreover, I hope that non-Indigenous people stand by the communities currently on the front line before it gets to that point.