“We had good documentation (for objections to fracking on Mi’kmaq land),” said Mi’kmaq warrior Suzanne Patless, “but we woke up to 100 guns around us.” Patless, a New Brunswick Mi’kmaq warrior, spoke in Calgary on February 10, at a panel organized by the Kainai Government, the largest reserve in Canada, a Blood band belonging to the Blackfoot Confederacy, south of Calgary.
Last October, and again in January, the Elsipogtog First Nation of New Brunswick blockaded land where Houston-based SWN Resources wanted to explore for shale gas deposits. Local Anglophone and Francophone New Brunswickers showed up in large numbers to support the Mi’kmaq-led protest. They were met by heavily armed RCMP officers. Images of their clashes — some 40 people arrested, and then some time later, burning police cars — filled the national news.
Suzanne Patless had an inside view. In January 2014, she travelled across Canada to tell other First Nations how she saw what happened — a view very different from what appeared on most TV news.
As APTN reported, in October, the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society placed their campsite so it blocked the main highway and a compound holding SWN’s exploration vehicles.
Then, says APTN:
RCMP tactical units, with some officers clad in black or wearing camouflage and wielding assault weapons, raided the camp on the morning of October 17. One shot was fired, which the RCMP said did not come from its officers, and Molotov cocktail was thrown at police during the initial stages of the raid. Once word spread in Elsipogtog, community members rushed to the scene and clashed with RCMP officers who used pepper spray and sock rounds to control the crowd.
“Suzanne was one of first people to be arrested,” said Brian Seaman, lawyer and legal researcher with the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre. He was there, and in his view, “First Nations people seemed to be targeted for arrest, among all the Acadians and Anglophones who stepped forward to be arrested.”
Seaman knows his way around New Brunswick, having been educated at the University of New Brunswick. He said that the RCMP has specific protocols for dealing with First Nations people, protocols that recognize indigenous people have unique relations to the land. “The land is their church,” he said. “She was arrested for praying by the roadside.”
Seaman observed the RCMP using two techniques against the protesters: “catch and release,” and “good cop-bad cop.” That is, the police arrested people, held them several hours, and then released them without charges — catch and release. Or else they visited Elsipogtog one day to negotiate under a diplomatic banner, and then returned the next day heavily armed, to arrest people or raid the camp.
“All of New Brunswick is a giant reservation because of Irving Incorporated,” said Platless. “We had assault rifles pointed at us. We were beaten with them. We were shot at. My spouse and brother are still in prison waiting trial, still constantly harassed inside the jail.”
Asked what level of violence is acceptable in resistance, Patless replied: “We’re not all Kumbayah-singing peacemakers. Every language group has stories of Warrior Societies. My grandfather refused to let Indian agents take my mother to Residential School.”
“If you think Alberta is dominated by one industry,” Brian Seaman reinforced Patless’ words, “you should try New Brunswick. The Irvings own all the media, and employ most of the population.”
“There has been so little coverage of this confrontation, and most of what there has been, has been biased. Irving media frame the fracking conflict as a conflict between the economy and the environment, and that’s just not true.”
Although the incident received national coverage, the details have been scanty. Readers could easily come away thinking the warriors had set fire to the police cars, when — as Seaman pointed out — the warriors were already under arrest when the fires started.
Indeed, the Canadian Association of Journalists issued a news release last December “calling on the RCMP to either lay charges or stop harassing a journalist working in New Brunswick arrested for the third time on November 28.” (Miles Howe)
Fracking is also a recent concern for the Alberta Kainai nation. If Stephen Harper was looking for a friendly audience as backdrop to his speech about the proposed First Nations Education Act (FNEA), he probably should not have dropped in unexpectedly on the Kanai Blood Reserve, south of Lethbridge.
Idle No More members there heard about his plans the day before and had a news release out by dinnertime. “The Blood Tribe’s Idle No More members condemn the process leading up to this announcement, regardless of the content of what the Prime Minister may promise to First Nations regarding education,” said the news release.
“The FNEA is the latest proposed Bill in a suite of unilateral federal Bills amending the Indian Act to assimilate First Nations into the Canadian mainstream while denying First Nations Inherent, Aboriginal and Treaty Rights.”
Lori Brave Rock was among the protesters when Stephen Harper arrived. “We held up our Stop Harper signs in front of Harper when he came in, and we were escorted out by the police,” she said. “They were very handsy.”
Brave Rock has the clear diction of a teacher and serves on the Board of the Oldman River watershed, “We are the largest Native reserve in Canada,” she said. And yet there is an oil company drilling in the areas of the reserve where most homes are grouped.
“We were supposed to have a vote on whether First Nations should keep control over their oil and gas resources but the issue just went away without a referendum vote,” she said. “We never actually gave consent to have this on our land. The first leasing agreement was signed on a Monday last October, and drilling started on Wednesday.”
“Oil & Gas Canada magazine said we should have had a referendum but they said we had one in 1952, when the population was about 3000 (compared to 12,000 now). The promised environmental protections were abolished with Omnibus bills. They’re also going to be fracking around the reserve. I think we need a moratorium on fracking in Southern Alberta.”