Debriefing Elsipogtog: The Anatomy of a Struggle

By Miles Howe
Fernwood Publishing, November 30, 2014, $24.95

With the luxury of 18 months of hindsight, I was able to more fully explore and delve into some of the non-violent tactics used by the resistance to shale gas in New Brunswick in 2013. I felt it was important to highlight a few of the summertime 2013 efforts of the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society. This was prior to the blockade of late September/early October that would ultimately culminate in a hundreds-strong RCMP raid, but it was after a June and July of watching and assessing the actions of the RCMP.

In effect, the Warrior Society had, by late July, identified the RCMP not as a representative of the Crown, but, in their own words, as an “objective.” The police had already arrested about 40 people over shale gas protests, had begun to infiltrate various factions of the resistance, had arguably negotiated in “bad faith” on various occasions, and appeared loathe to practice any modicum of law enforcement on several legally questionable actions of Southwestern Energy (the Houston-based fracking company), or J.D. Irving-owned Industrial Security Ltd.

By mid-summer, with Southwestern Energy on a temporary hiatus, what we see is the Warrior Society swinging into action, attempting to seek out various alternatives to an ultimate confrontation with the RCMP — one which I assume they knew would not go in their favour. These treaty-based, ‘alternate plans’, went woefully unreported by mainstream media, which should in itself spawn a serious discussion of how we as settler-Canadians typecast the Indigenous populations of this land, especially in resistance. Good at frontline actions, brave, full of heart, perhaps, but never the master planners.

For myself, even coming from a science-based perspective of knowing that hydraulic fracturing and unconventional gas extraction are not ‘good’ for the environment, and even from a place of understanding that our responsibilities, as settlers, of honouring the treaties are not being met, in looking back I found myself equally as guilty of such typecasting. If anything, I saw ‘the fight’ as justified. But is equal harm done through heroic personification as through racist vilification?

Perhaps in looking back, in flushing out the non-violent actions of the Warrior Society, in presenting them as ‘outside-the-box’ tacticians, this binary ‘one or the other’ interpretation can be laid to rest.

Please enjoy this excerpt from Debriefing Elsipogtog: The Anatomy of a Struggle by Miles Howe and enjoy a special offer from fernwood press at the end:

By the morning of July 28, numerous police officers returned to the site of the previous evening’s blockade. Word reached the encampment that the RCMP stripped the snowmobile shack of supplies, took down the flags (Warrior, Acadian and otherwise) that had been staked above its entrance, and were blocking off the entire area as a crime scene. On call, a group of about fifteen Warriors rushed back to the scene. As they made their way back to the shack, they were blocked by a line of RCMP officers and their vehicles.

In a video taken of the encounter, one can see Jim Pictou, a general in the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society, doing most of the talking. The dozen or so Warriors around him stood shoulder to shoulder, encouraging the RCMP to “cross a line” drawn in the dirt of the road, to “see what happens.” Again, emotions were high and the untrained eye could easily look upon the scene and see nothing more than hyper-inflated male posturing and gesticulating that might precede a physical fight. Coupled with the rough-and-tumble style of the MWS (by that I mean that they were mostly large men in camouflage), and one might just dismiss the encounter as a test of strength. But there was much, much more going on here.

At one point in the encounter, Pictou noted that he had lost faith in the RCMP as a negotiating partner due to their failure in the events of the night before. From then on, he said, he would negotiate directly with the Canadian military rather than the RCMP. In effect, underneath all the bluster and tough exterior, Pictou was giving notice to the RCMP that because of their bad-faith negotiating tactics and their abject protection of SWN, an American-based corporation, they were disqualified as representatives of the Crown, with whom the Mi’kmaq nation signed numerous nation-to-nation treaties. Make no mistake; Pictou told the RCMP that he had called the army on them, based on his treaty rights. This was not the stuff of brutish toughs or illegal protesters. In my mind, this was treaty philosophy at its best and was one of the key moments in the struggle against SWN. And again the mainstream media overlooked it.

“The military want to be negotiators to this because we can’t negotiate with you guys,” said Pictou. “Call the military up in Oromocto.”

Pictou then handed the phone to an RCMP captain, who began to have a conversation, out of earshot, with a military captain who Pictou identified as Dupree. Pictou continued:

We have the right of the 1752 treaty, for the English, for the British, to [get] involved. If we have a problem with RCMP? They’re here to protect us as well. So, since you guys are [an] objective, like before you used to work with us? Now you work with SWN? You’re now [an] objective. Now you are illegally RCMP. You just got a badge to be badasses. To be illegal.

Pictou’s interpretation of the 1752 treaty signed between the Mi’kmaq and the British on the shores of the Shubenacadie River in modern-day Nova Scotia is that the Crown and the Mi’kmaq have a treaty-based relationship that preceded the creation of the RCMP. The test was then on the Crown to prove that the RCMP was its honourable representative. This understanding was backed up by the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled in Simon v. Crown that the Treaty of 1752 is an enforceable document.

In this nation-to-nation relationship, in which favour, friendship and protection are bestowed by the Crown onto Mi’kmaq people, Pictou’s argument was that there continues to exist a mutual understanding that either nation will come to the defence of the other when faced with a theoretical invader. Based on the police’s actions of June and July (punching elders in the face, twisting women’s arms, seizing sacred objects, participating in bad-faith negotiations while liaising with Peacekeepers on the inside of the resistance and so on), I agree with Pictou that the RCMP were protecting SWN rather than honouring their role as a representative of the Crown. It also isn’t difficult to see SWN, a company with a proven track record of environmental destruction and a disdain for adhering to regulations, as an invading force; or as Pictou put it, an “objective” for the MWS — the modern-day security force of the Mi’kmaq.

To Pictou, the New Brunswick RCMP was in league with an American merchant invader that by the very nature of its business pursuit would unquestionably do irreparable harm to lands and waters that the Mi’kmaq had never signed away. The New Brunswick RCMP, also known as J Division, were therefore in defiance of the 1752 treaty. Between sovereign nations, under the mutual protection of treaties of peace and friendship, this amounted to a treasonous action that required Pictou to alert the Crown, or its “next-in-line” modern-day enforcement representative, the Canadian military. Through its actions, the RCMP decided to side with the merchant invader, and thus had excused themselves from the Crown. Protection was needed for the Mi’kmaq nation against them.

Photo courtesy of Miles Howe.

This was an incredibly resolute and historic move on the part of the MWS, which someday might be discussed by those who enjoy treaty-based contemplation in the calm halls of academia, coffeehouses or judicial chambers. As far as my own research tells me, no one had ever before used the Treaty of 1752 to call the Canadian military to report on a renegade, treasonous, provincial division of the RCMP that appeared to be under direct orders to serve the interests of an invading, foreign, corporate entity. Let alone had it be successful.

But something happened in that telephone conversation between the army and the police because the police packed up and moved out about 20 minutes later, and the Warriors reclaimed the ski-doo shack. Then, to almost everyone’s surprise, SWN immediately retreated from Line 5, leaving its seismic work unfinished. There was not one more minute of work after that fateful phone call. Pressing their advantage, the next day a negotiating team selected from the community of Elsipogtog, which included one representative of the MWS, met behind closed doors with RCMP negotiators. After a full day of talks, SWN folded. The company was given three days to ensure that it had removed all its equipment (especially unexploded ordinance) from the woods. Something pulled the rug right out from under the RCMP, the province, the AFN, the AFNCNB and Elsipogtog band council. Although no one has said this publicly, in my estimation that “something” was the treaty of 1752. For the next three days, monitors selected from the Elsipogtog community resistance rode as observers in SWN-contracted helicopters, making sure that the company was packing up and taking its equipment with it.

Although SWN promised to be back in September, two-and-a-half centuries later, the Treaty of 1752 bought Kent County two months of breathing room…

In modern-day Canada, a treaty is only as good as the quality and quantity of people you can convince of its validity. Treaty-based arguments have been most effective in the upper levels of Canadian courts, in which convincing judges of their validity has been successfully done under less-pressing and potentially violent circumstances than in the field, squaring off against a renegade government and its provincial police force. The treaties in the Maritimes have also been most successfully used in gaining fishing and hunting rights, which although of the utmost importance to the pursuit of a traditional lifestyle, are a far cry from repulsing a hydraulic fracturing company with multiple billions of dollars available to it. Using treaty knowledge in a field situation and requesting that the Canadian military intervene on behalf of the Mi’kmaq people against the RCMP was a unique and daring gambit. But could it possibly be enough to send SWN back to Houston?

As reported by Jorge Barerra for APTN, the MWS did indeed meet again with representatives from the Canadian military on September 13, 2013. It requested an intervention on its behalf, under treaty, to come to its defence against a foreign enemy (SWN) and a domestic enemy (the RCMP) in their employ. Ultimately, the Canadian military turned down the request and instead referred the Society’s request for assistance back to the RCMP — the very aggressors they identified as needing protection against.

The Canadian military’s decision to reject the MWS request was not made solely at the discretion of the Fifth Canadian Division Support Base at Oromoto, New Brunswick, where the meeting was held. How far up a chain of command this request went, along with the details of the subsequent decision to deny the MWS the support it sought, is unknown. I have filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act for the details from this meeting, but the Department of National Defence (DND) has not honoured my request. As of press time for this book, after waiting more than six months, I filed a complaint with the Office of the Information Commissioner in relation to what I perceived to be the DND’s unsatisfactory delays in responding to this request. What I do know, from limited communication with the DND, is that whatever decision was transmitted from Fifth Canadian Support Base to the MWS was arrived at with the involvement of various other federal departments. In short, this was not just a military decision.

The Canadian army’s rejection slip meant that, once again, whenever SWN returned to New Brunswick, the resistance would be back to dealing with the New Brunswick RCMP. At the very least, the resistance knew where the Canadian federal government stood in relation to the unfolding scenario in New Brunswick. The feds and the army would not meddle in Alward’s affairs.

Back in Kent County, further alliances with the surrounding Acadian communities were made. In the summer, Acadian members of the Society went door to door in Rogersville and the surrounding area, seeking signatures of locals who would be willing to have their municipality formally engage the MWS as a township-appointed security force. The aim was to have municipal legislation give the MWS the regulated legitimacy that Elsipogtog First Nation governance would not. This is not to say the MWS were unwanted in Elsipogtog — their assistance had indeed been requested by Elsipogtog community members — only that band council could not formally engage the MWS on a cooperative, productive level by virtue of being muzzled by other interests, financial and otherwise.

The MWS attempt to win over the municipality of Rogersville, although well-planned-out, would also be rebuffed. Acadian War Chief Romeo Martin recalled:

I managed to get over 1700 signatures. It took me two weeks to get them to sign a petition against shale gas. Then we got together with the Warrior Society. Then we went to the municipal office and we asked the mayor of Rogersville to support us, to get us all together and fight shale gas. The mayor looked at it and said three quarters of the petition was no good because all the side roads had signed, and they were outside of Rogersville.

The petition, accompanied with the signatures, read as follows:

Whereas the community members of Rogersville are hereby requesting assistance from the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society Peacekeepers to uphold the nation to nation relationship that the Mi’kmaq people have with their settler brothers and sisters.

Whereas the community members of Rogersville are hereby requesting the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society Peacekeepers to uphold the protection of the settlers’ provision set out in the 1724, 1725, 1752, 1763 and 1779 peace and friendship, pre-confederation, treaties.

Whereas the community members of Rogersville are hereby requesting that the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society Peacekeepers be sanctioned to uphold their treaty right as homeland security of Mi’kma’ki, for the Mi’kmaq nation and the Rogersville community members, because of the lack of trust between the federal and provincial government, private security members and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Whereas the community members of Rogersville are hereby requesting that a motion is passed to allow the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society Peacekeepers to assert their inherent treaty right to protect the settlers, waters and land from harm.

Whereas the community members of Rogersville are hereby recognizing and affirming the Mi’kmaq nation’s authority to protect the settlers, waters and land and constitutionally protect inherent treaty rights and understand that these rights endure as long as the sun shines, the water flows and the grass is green.

Martin said that the petition and letter was sent to the mayor on August 7. Although Mayor Robichaud was clearly against seismic testing, having signed the KRDC moratorium request of July 18th, she would not pass the motion in front of her. “The Warriors would have liked to have had that signed, to say they were accepted in Rogersville to protect Rogersville,” said Martin. “[Robichaud] told me she was for it 100 percent, but she didn’t want to sign her name to it.”

Again, this was another treaty-based story of cooperation, foresight and expert planning that the mainstream media ignored one and all. It began to seem like a trend, or at the very least an age-old story line whereby Indigenous resistance is emotionally led and short on planning instead of what the story unfolding in Kent County actually was: a collaborative attempt to avoid confrontation at all costs. It was as if they wanted a “crazy Indian” story and that was it. Whatever didn’t fit that purview wasn’t even news.


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Miles Howe is a guest living in K’jipuktuk (Halifax), on unceeded Mi’kmaw territory. He’s a freelance journalist and an editor with the Halifax Media Co-op. Follow him on twitter @MilesHowe