The Glorious New Brunswick Shale Gas Rebellion Of 2013

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KAIROS has recently undertaken a research project on the Indigenous right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) regarding proposed resource extraction projects on Indigenous lands. Willi Nolan is a member of the reference group for this project and she has contributed this piece about resistance to hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) in New Brunswick. Willi is a semi-retired, veteran activist who has been based in New Brunswick for fifteen years. Focusing on citizen education and drawing on her grassroots experience and Aboriginal teachings, she is playing a key role in defending the peoples, lands and waters in Wabanaki-Mi’kmaq District of Sikniktuk against threats from oil and gas companies. ​The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of KAIROS.

The Glorious New Brunswick Shale Gas Rebellion of 2013

Peace, Friendship & Decolonization Meets the Colonial Industrial Complex

by Willi Nolan

The harsh, violent and public denial of the right of Mi’kmaq peoples in New Brunswick to free prior and informed consent (FPIC) to shale gas developments on their lands made it to the news and table discussions everywhere. And it is still providing global citizens with an  insight into a shocking, inspiring and historic movement of allied peoples in Canada who are under extreme threat and who are demanding to know who ordered the increasingly brutal assaults against peaceful land, water and human rights protectors in Canada in 2013, and why. [1] [3] [8] [36]

SayNoToShaleGasThe answers to questions about who is involved and why reveal the sinister continuance of a set of despicable, centuries-old, but only quietly spoken of, genocidal laws, policies and practices intended to completely eliminate Aboriginal rights in Canada.  An examination of the answers reveals that New Brunswick is attempting to justify repression and brutality and that Canada is ignoring constitutional and international law including laws that protect human, civil and Aboriginal rights. Canada proceeds as if it has the right to subjugate, control and assimilate Aboriginal peoples as well as eliminate Aboriginal rights! Ironically, the same legislative trends also suppress some of the fundamental rights of settler peoples. The Glorious New Brunswick Shale Gas Rebellion has exposed tyranny and genocide and in so doing has become a model for communities seeking to eliminate unjust laws. [1] [36] [38]

Canada’s Mandatory Indian “Enfranchisement” Laws Have Never Been Repealed

It is shocking that laws for the mandatory “enfranchisement” (assimilation) of “Indians” have yet to be condemned or repealed. In Canada’s 1857 Gradual Civilization Act, Indians were granted the “privilege” of mandatory enfranchisement – forgoing their Indian status to become “civilized,” and to “no longer be deemed an Indian” with the “legal rights and habilities of Indians.” Some privilege!  Another Act purporting “protection” of the “property of Indians” takes away Aboriginal peoples’ power to define their own territories, community members and leadership. It ignores community councils and well developed laws as well as economic and governance systems that had ensured peoples’ health and survival since time immemorial. Canada’s Indian Act is the first and only legislation in  Canada specifically designed for a particular race of people. [30]  [31] [32]

Despite the fact that FPIC is the human rights framework for negotiations between Indigenous peoples and States, the Canadian government claims that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) is only “aspirational” and not legally binding. This view of FPIC is not shared by the people of New Brunswick. The Glorious New Brunswick Shale Gas Rebellion of 2013 has caused some legally problematic situations for provincial, federal and ‘enfranchised’ First Nations’ governments; their house of cards perches precariously. [41]

All the lands of the Wabanaki Confederacy, including Mi’kmaq territories, are unceded. Rights and title to the lands and waters are held communally by Aboriginal peoples themselves — and NOT by chiefs elected under the Indian Act. A failure to recognize this fact has led traditional authorities and members of the Wabanaki Confederacy to challenge decisions made in contempt of their inherent rights. [3] [5] [27] [37]

As citizen education about shale gas took place across all cultural sectors, settler-citizens of Wabanaki-New Brunswick began asserting their collective rights and demanding that laws meant to ensure governments act in the best interest of their citizens are upheld! New, profound and powerful legal questions are being asked. The alliances between settlers and Aboriginal people are asserting pressure on industry representatives and law makers who overstep their jurisdiction and act too blatantly in the interests of corporations. People are not only upholding the Treaties, they are demanding that they be governed by the Rule of Law.  [38]

The Glorious New Brunswick Shale Gas Rebellion is a living expression of peace and friendship between people who have survived centuries of colonial rule and oppression. A statement from the New Brunswick Shale Gas Alliance superbly sums up this solidarity relationship. “We stand in solidarity with these representatives of the Original Peoples, and that we will continue our common struggle together to have the technology known as “hydraulic fracturing” outlawed across all the Maritimes and in any and all other traditional lands of the Original People.” It is noteworthy that the Alliance has also called for an independent public inquiry into the police raid on a peaceful protest camp in Rexton on October 17th, 2013. [4] [38]


Allied Movement Downplayed by Media Spin

Despite media reports focused on the support of Highway 11 Land Defenders for Elsipogtog and warriors, the “movement” did not begin or end near Rexton, New Brunswick on October 17, 2013.  Decades old settler movements to live in peace and friendship and uphold the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples have become part of the fabric of Wabanaki Territory-Atlantic Canada.  By October 17, violent police treatment of peaceful protesters had been ongoing for almost 5 months and the anti-shale gas movement had been building support for five years. Global media attention arrived in time to deliver impressive coverage of the prayerful women, visiting environmental activists, camouflaged warriors and sniper squads who happened to be on the scene on or after October 17 – the day everyone was traumatized.  At this time, facts were manipulated, divisions were created and misinformation and partial truths began to shape journalistic, judicial and public opinion. [36]

Many people saw the anti-shale gas movement gain strength when Elsipogtog’s elected Chief and Council gave it public support. Well publicized meetings with Chief Aaren Sock, the Premier and their attachés were held and media reported a series of closed-door meetings. An APTN report revealed handwritten notes from one of these closed meetings attended by Sock and Premier David Alward. The notes contained a timeline to end blockades of SWN machinery and allow the company to finish some of its exploration work. Independent media reported a rift between Mi’kmaq Warriors and elected Elsipogtog leadership.  Involvement of the Idle No More movement allowed people to connect to broader movements to free people from cycles of corrupt and oppressive regimes.  Indigenous leaders across Turtle Island sought their place in the learning, knowing and actions taking place in New Brunswick; people across the world are watching. [6] [7] [34] [35]

It must surely sting veteran activists a little to hear claims such as “In the last 30 years of Canadian environmentalism, there has not been a major environmental victory won without First Nations at the helm.” Such misleading information feeds right into the Government of Canada’s plans for control of resources, the assimilation of Aboriginal peoples and the eventual takeover of Aboriginal territories. In fact, historic alliances between First peoples and settlers have strengthened environmental protection and respect for Treaty and Aboriginal rights (notwithstanding the present government’s policies on these matters). By people joining together to uphold Indigenous and human rights, global movements to protect the lands, waters and fundamental rights of all peoples are strengthened.  The last hope for the environment is unity among the people of the earth.  [2] [10] [11]

Colonial Industrial Complex Strategy: Make “Good Deals” with “First Nations”

The resource extraction industry’s approach to engaging with “First Nations” peoples on proposed projects includes an understanding “that First Nations now hold the balance of power in deciding the fate of Canada’s resource projects”, and this approach is designed to undermine Indigenous rights by manipulating language to make it sound otherwise. Industry advocates rattle on about “good deals” made with willing Natives, including the deals that led to the establishment of the tar sands projects. Former federal officials become Treaty negotiators and praise those who negotiated the terms of the oil sands projects for “doing it right” by supporting Aboriginal enterprises and employing thousands. Note the key words and phrases being used to attract under-educated First Peoples to “resource development”:“revenue sharing”, “building trust”, “treating First Nations as full partners” and “co-applicants before regulatory boards.” [7] [13] [14]

Enter “check mark consultation”, “culture pimping” (sometimes described as “consultation and accommodation” with “First Nations”) and the Colonial Industrial Complex.  Indian Act band leaders advance their demands using terminology like “Treaty Right to Resources” and “Revenue Benefit Sharing”. They talk about their approach as a strategy to “foster good relations between industry, the Crown, and First Nations” in order to “improve the investment climate, and thereby enhance the economic potential.” [16] [17] [33]

Most attempts to achieve genuine “consultation” and “accommodation” processes are stymied by ever-rotating Chief and Council members, making it impossible to create long term analysis and plans – while the “consultants” stay the same. Industry and governments only want to talk to the people who Indian Affairs relies on to make decisions. No one is taking the time to hear what Aboriginal people and  communities really want, and prospects for obtaining free, prior and informed consent based on collective rights are strangled. [33]

Pre-existing, collectively-held rights are never, or very rarely, mentioned within the colonial-industrial complex.  Likewise, countries that are signatories to the UNDRIP rarely mention that they are required to recognize that the rights of Indigenous peoples to redress, restitution, settlement and dispute resolution. This applies to lands and resources, development activities, environmental protection, cultural rights, repatriation and judicial and legislative processes that may affect Indigenous peoples.  Member states are required by law to provide fair, independent, impartial, open and transparent access to justice processes that give due recognition to the laws, traditions, customs, lands, territories and resources of Indigenous peoples.  [37]

But instead of affirming pre-existing and lawfully affirmed rights, there is a careful avoidance of the words “free”, “prior” and “informed” “consent” and “traditional authority” in agreements made with “First Nations” leadership.  Well-meaning Canadian settlers are similarly misled to believe that they don’t have any real property rights and that only “First Nations” peoples on “reservations” do. But then, the misinformation and enfranchisement agenda included them from the beginning. Divide and conquer.

There are some high stakes games being played. It comes down to the core issues of the right of Indigenous peoples to give or withhold consent to use their lands and resources, the extinguishment of Indigenous peoples’ rights and genocide. You can’t experience the right to free, prior and informed consent at the frightened end of a tyrant’s fist. The colonial-industrial complex raised its fists against protectors of the lands and waters in Wabanaki in 2013. Let Peace and Friendship prevail.