[News] Canada - First Nations warn Harper's zeal for resources makes the Elsipogtog protest part of a wider struggle
news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Oct 24 13:11:34 EDT 2013
First Nations warn Harper's zeal for resources makes the Elsipogtog
protest part of a wider struggle
by Travis Lupick <http://www.straight.com/users/travis-lupick> on Oct
First Nations' frustrations with government are nearing a boiling point
where confrontations are increasingly likely to turn violent, B.C.
aboriginal leaders warn.
In a telephone interview, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip told the /Georgia
Straight/ that recent clashes between RCMP officers and First Nations
members in New Brunswick are part of a struggle shared by aboriginal
people across Canada.
"I think Prime Minister Harper has done an incredible job provoking a
conflict between the economy and the environment," the president of the
Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said. "It's shaping up to be a war between
oil and water. And it applies to the eastern part of this country as
well as British Columbia."
On October 17, the RCMP broke up an Elsipogtog First Nation protest
that for three weeks had peacefully blocked access to a fracking project
operated by SWN Resources Canada outside the town of Rexton, New
Brunswick. Videos <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ipp_KC6Hexw> show
<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mr7rPxVjZl0> teams resembling military
commandoes armed with heavy weapons positioned alongside a large number
of regular officers donning riot gear.
Six RCMP vehicles were set on fire. Authorities used pepper spray and
fired nonlethal "sock rounds" to disperse the crowds
and 40 people were arrested.
"All you have to do is connect the dots to recognize what happened in
New Brunswick is not an isolated incident," Phillip said. "The brutal
response on the part of the RCMP...was, in part, to send a message---a
very strong message---to the First Nations and the environmental
movement in British Columbia."
Phillip claimed he's been informed Canadian law enforcement officials
have been instructed to intensify how they respond to First Nations and
environmental protests. He said that authorities will be less likely to
seek court-issued injunctions ordering demonstrators to disband. "We
have been told that from now on, the RCMP are going to simply arrive,
and that from that moment, they are going to move in with enforcement
actions," Phillip said.
Those remarks echoed comments Phillip made at an October 19 rally
<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1FMq54ctro> in downtown Vancouver that
was attended by hundreds of supporters of the Elsipogtog First Nation.
There, he was joined by Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, national chief of the
Assembly of First Nations, who called the day a "moment for
collaboration or collision".
Gord Hill is an activist with the Kwakwaka'wakw Nation and a contributor
to Warrior Publications <http://warriorpublications.wordpress.com/>, a
website that aggregates news related to aboriginal issues. In a
telephone interview, he told the /Straight/ that the Elsipogtog fracking
fight mirrors B.C. protests against oil pipelines.
Hill noted that the October 17 incident was the culmination of months of
peaceful demonstrations during which tensions slowly grew. He added that
he sees the same thing happening in B.C.
"It's building towards a conflict," Hill said. "They will use any means
that they have at their disposal to push through and impose these
pipeline projects, fracking projects, and whatever onto the people here."
Both the Canadian Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and its provincial
counterpart declined to make representatives available to comment. The
B.C. RCMP responded to an interview request with an email stating its
officers are impartial and uphold the law.
Douglas Bland is a 30-year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces and
former chair of defence studies at Queen's University. A May 2013 report
he drafted for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute warns that First Nations'
marginalized position in society combined with economic and resource
factors "provides motives for an insurgency".
"The fact that Canada's natural wealth flows unfairly from Aboriginal
lands and peoples to non-Aboriginal Canadians is a long-standing and
justifiable grievance," the document states. "Therefore, it is morally
and ethically just that Indigenous peoples act in their own interests
and in the interests of their future generations to correct this
On the phone from his home in Kingston, Ontario, Bland told the
/Straight/ that Canada's economy is "very vulnerable to disruption" via
the country's transportation infrastructure. He recalled that in 2012, a
Canadian Pacific Railway strike was estimated to cost the economy $540
million per week
"Imagine if the thing was shut down for three months?" Bland added. "The
economics of transport are very important to British Columbia and they
are very important to the rest of the country. If they shut down the
railway lines going over the Rockies...as the strike with the railways
proved last year, it would be a very serious problem for the government."
A book Bland authored in 2010 called /Uprising
is scheduled for reissue next month. "It's a political novel but I wrote
it over a long period of research with aboriginal people and government
and so on," Bland said. "In a number of ways and in detail, it describes
how an aboriginal insurgency would unfold in Canada."
He suggested that a peaceful path forward depends on meaningful
government dialogue with First Nations groups, something that, he noted,
most aboriginal leaders maintain is not the current state of affairs.
Several First Nations people the /Straight/ spoke with for this story
also put heightened tensions in the context of glaring inequalities. On
October 15, the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of
indigenous peoples said that Canada is facing a "crisis"
when it comes to the situation of aboriginal people.
"Canada consistently ranks near the top among countries with respect to
human development standards," said James Anaya, "and yet amidst this
wealth and prosperity, aboriginal people live in conditions akin to
those in countries that rank much lower and in which poverty abounds."
Khelsilem Rivers is a community organizer with the Skwxwú7mesh Nation
who has worked with the Idle No More
movement. Like Phillip and Hill, he also voiced concerns about the
growing possibility of violence between First Nations groups and
Canadian law-enforcement agencies.
Rivers lamented that for years, Canada's aboriginal people have known
that the federal government regards their protest movements as
illegitimate. He recounted how in 2007 the public learned
that the military was using a counter-insurgency manual that listed
Native groups alongside international terrorist organizations. More
recently, Rivers continued, the RCMP used the Elsipogtog incident to
denounce First Nations' protests as a threat to public safety.
"It's a tactic that's meant to separate supporters from each other and
try to create dissent, as well as a level of doubt within the Canadian
public," he said.
Rivers described rising frustrations as part of fundamental
disagreements that go back more than 100 years. "The main issue in all
of this is indigenous jurisdiction," he explained.
"The B.C. government, just like the New Brunswick government, wants to
build its economy on shale gas and bitumen pipelines, and so there is
going to be a conflict coming to a head," Rivers continued. "It thinks
it can ram these projects through, and I think that indigenous people
need to get ready to fight that belief."
/You can follow Travis Lupick on Twitter at twitter.com/tlupick
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