What the violence in Elsipogtog and the show of support from coast to coast means for our community
It has been almost one year since the Idle-No-More movement sprang up across Canada. Like all headlines, it was born in a fury and passed from the public mind in conveniently speedy succession, making way for the next big story. It all flew by before the long-term scope of the national concerns integral within the movement could make their way through the dust and debris of petty arguments and political sideswipes.
With the outbreak of violence in Kent County, New Brunswick on Thursday, Canada is reminded of the national demonstrations which took place last December. Sometimes it even gets difficult to discern the images. Flashes of demonstrations and roadblocks throughout the years spring up. Visions of the almost war-like situation during the Oka Crisis of 1990 come forward and Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is present in our ears once more. It is vital that we sift through the anger, the violence, and the fervent media blaze, fuelled by political rhetoric, and identify what is at the heart of this immediate and hugely important issue.
On Friday, Oct. 18, just one day after the outbreak of violence in New Brunswick, an astounding number of solidarity demonstrations erupted across the nation. Here, in Corner Brook, a march which encompassed over twenty sympathizers was also organized to raise awareness and offer support to the brothers and sisters of Elsipogtog and others who share their hardships. As it stands, much of the debate seems to be focused on the technicalities associated with the violent confrontations which gained national attention on Thursday. This article holds no aspirations of assigning guilt or blame to any party. There are an abundance of news articles from which you can assess the details of the events and think about the nature of the RCMP response and the presence of molotov cocktails, home-made explosives and tear gas.
What needs to truly be assessed is the basic needs which brought together both Native and non-Native citizens to blockade and protest in their home community in New Brunswick before any media or national publicity so much as blinked an eye. We must also question what relevancy this holds for our community, and communities across the nation, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, together.
A few major issues entangle themselves and propagate such a friction which can spark the violence we witnessed Thursday. Firstly, is our global thirst for resources, especially fossil fuels. Fracking, among other methods of extracting natural gas, has made harvestable hydrocarbons increasingly abundant, especially in the rich shale beds of our nation’s east coast. Companies are hungry to make lucrative commodities from the fruits of the earth, and we, the consumers, are eager to consume. It is not with vehemence or evil that private resource companies do their business, it is with the natural desire offered by opportunities in a free market system. Nevertheless, much of the extraction is not only surpassing sustainable limits, but often comes at the expense of communities’ well-being. These communities are our communities.
Newfoundland’s West Coast, like Elsipogtog, is endowed with the gift of natural gas and oil (among many other resources), and so we face the repercussions that are often associated with extraction. In the case of fracking, these repercussions appear to be plenty and frightening (just watch Jessica Ernst’s recent presentation at the People’s Forum on Fracking in Stephenville). In Elsipogtog, among so many other Aboriginal communities across the nation, the situation of resource extraction occurring at the cost of public health and well-being is compounded by unresolved issues and stigmas associated with Aboriginal land claims, a history of abuse and neglect, as well as an overall lack of public concern demonstrated by pro-industry governments.
How did it come to be that the national police force, the RCMP, was able to take physical action against citizens on a court injunction from a private, Texas-based company without consultation or notification to David Alward, the premier of New Brunswick?
This brings us to the second major compounding factor: a deterioration of democracy. How did it come to be that the national police force, the RCMP, was able to take physical action against citizens on a court injunction from a private, Texas-based company without consultation or notification to David Alward, the premier of New Brunswick? In itself, this occurrence demonstrates the political priorities of government at this point, as well as a frightening exhibition of political and military force available for private interest. The reason the Elsipogtog community and non-Aboriginal citizens and sympathizers felt the need to directly blockade action of SWN Resources was not a desire to raise hell, it was simply the last ditch effort to make any headway with their dire concerns. Where else could people turn after government and industry acted without allowing proper consultation of the public involved? The lack of just discussions, consultations, and negotiations lie at the heart of the conflict.
Perhaps we have the Idle-No-More movement to thank for the quickness with which Aboriginal communities across Canada rose up in solidarity and support for Elsipogtog and their cause. The movement initiated a national bond and united isolated rural locations, reserves, and communities through their desire for slower development which holds the public and the environment at the center of proper consultation and negotiation. As long as the concerned public are viewed by industry as a hindrance to regular operation, and private companies are looked upon by the public as greedy demons, Elsipogtog is yet another unfortunate headline in a string of anger with no resolve.
When people came together to march down University Drive in Corner Brook, they were not only asking us to turn our sympathetic eyes to New Brunswick, they were asking us to find Elsipogtog within our back gardens and in the water we drink. Canada is a sparsely populated nation and its communities are scattered quietly amidst a vast and fruitful land. Solidarity for Elsipogtog means also recognition of the brotherhood and sisterhood we share within ourselves, our communities, and the land from which we live and drink. This is not an “Indian problem”. This is not only a judicial issue of violence and offenses. This is the future we must consider in a holistic and realistic way. May we look past the violence. May we look to the water we drink, the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the goods we consume and burn. May we look to Elsipogtog with more hope than disdain and more unity than anger. May we idle no more.