[News] Canada - First Nations warn Harper's zeal for resources makes the Elsipogtog protest part of a wider struggle

Anti-Imperialist News 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 
23, 2013

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 
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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