Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Canadian Natives in Anti-Fracking Protest,
Burning Police Cars, Attacked by Tear Gas and Tasers
By Eric Walberg
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, October 28, 2013
Canadian natives resist: 'What the frack?'
This week’s anti-fracking protest has put Canada’s First Nations at the
forefront of Canada’s political life, injecting spirit back into our
moribund political scene. Canadians watching the evening news were shocked
by scenes of burning police cars, a riot squad of 100 police wielding tear
gas and tasers on horseback.
Demonstrations to protest shale gas
exploration on native lands near Rexton, New Brunswick, had been mounting
for months, and when the RCMP moved in to take down the Mikmaq Elsipogtog
tribe’s barriers, it was hardly surprising that the standoff became violent,
starting with demonstrators throwing rocks, bottles and paint, and, when
Chief Arren Sock was arrested, setting fire to six police cars. At least 40
people were arrested Thursday for violating a court-order injunction and
disturbing the peace.
Fracking is a method of gas extraction where
water is mixed with sand and chemicals and injected at high pressure into a
wellbore to create small fractures, yielding natural gas and petroleum. In
the process, it pollutes ground water, which now bears toxic chemicals and
dangerously high levels of radiation, as well as emitting foul odors. The
local Mikmaq claim that the Canadian subsidiary of the American frackers,
Southwest Energy (SWN), is operating illegally on tribal land, and activists
began blocking the highway between Rexton and Sainte-Anne-de-Kent on 28
September. SWN used its muscle and money to get a court injunction evicting
But SWN’s irresistible force had met an immovable
object. Speaking on “Columbus Day” on 12 October, “a day which celebrates
521 years of genocide and oppression of Indigenous peoples”, Mikmaq Warrior
Society activist Suzane Patles declared 18 October to be a day of protest
against the court injunction, calling for other native groups across the
country to raise their banners in solidarity. Renaming Columbus Day
“Treaty Day”, Chief Sock presented a Band Council Resolution stating that
his community is prepared to reclaim all unoccupied Crown Lands in Signigtog
District (New Brunswick), stating, “Prime Minister Harper and the Canadian
government have washed their hands with regards to the environmental
protection of our lands and waters.” Chief Sock issued his own eviction
notice, warning the oil and gas company to leave native land.
RCMP claimed that at least one shot was fired Thursday “by someone other
than an officer”, recalling past escalations between police and natives. In
1990, the Mohawks blockaded a bridge in Oka, Quebec, to protest the building
of a golf course on native lands. That standoff also involved armed
resistance resulting in the death of a Quebec policeman, and became a
national crisis. Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney ordered the
mobilization of 2,500 Canadian troops. The courage of the Oka Mohawks
inspired First Nations protests across Canada and forced the government to
‘buy back’ the land from the municipality (land which was never theirs in
the first place) and prevent any further development.
legendary standoff was at Ipperwash Provincial Park in Ontario in 1995, over
the confiscation of a sacred Ojibwa burial ground in 1942 to use as a firing
range for the Canadian Army. The natives had been camping on the firing
range since 1993 to stop the desecration of their ancestors, and warned in
the spring of 1995 that they would occupy the park if nothing was done.
Nothing was done—by another Conservative leader, Ontario Premier Mike
Harris—and when the tourists packed up on Labour Day and the natives moved
in, Harris ordered a police sniper team to get “the fucking Indians out of
my park”. This led to the shooting and death of one of the leaders, Dudley
George (and a suspended two-year sentence for the sniper). Finally, in 2009,
65 years after it was stolen, the land was returned by the government, just
as in Oka, and as will surely happen in New Brunswick.
The legacy of
the latest corporate insanity—fracking—will last for generations, poisoning
ground water, destroying wildlife and making vast tracks of land
uninhabitable, speeding up global warming—all for the sake of burning
every-increasing amounts of energy. Instead of opposition party leaders
joing the Mikmaqs on the barricades in protest, Canadians are left with the
impression that natives are violently violating the ‘law’. But whose ‘law’?
Since Stephen Harper came to power at the head of the Conservative
Party in 2006, he has been busy dismantling laws that virtually all that
Canadians hold dear, with no effective opposition from the Liberals or New
Democrats. His legacy includes withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocols, twice
proroguing parliament and stifling freedom of speech, and electoral fraud (“robocalls”).
His government has been notable for its refusal to try to resolve
simmering treaty disputes with Canada’s First Nations. Instead, in 2008, he
signed a ‘treaty’—a public security cooperation “partnership”—with Israel, a
country which, like Canada, violates its treaty obligations with its own
native Palestinians. The Conservatives’ Bills C-38 and C-45 were blatant
attempts to replace the government’s treaty obligations with market
mechanisms, spelling the death knell of its obligations to First Nations.
Saskatchewan native women began a hunger strike in protest last
November, which Ontario Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence brought to
national attention with her own hunger strike near Ottawa’s Parliament Hill
in December. Their actions gave rise to Idle No More, a pan-Canadian native
organization that has attracted support from Canadians of all stripes.
In this latest standoff, as the police cars burned, Chief Sock was
released and spirited to a 3-hour meeting with New Brunswick Premier David
Alward. Sock called for a 30-day moratorium to allow tempers to cool and for
reflection. The blockade of highway 11 continues, and native activists from
across Canada are joining the Mikmaq in solidarity. Meanwhile,
demonstrations broke out in cities across Canada, including Halifax,
Montreal, Ottawa and Thunder Bay, as well as in New York and at the Canadian
Embassy in Washington, DC.
This principled action by New Brunswick
natives is being echoed in dozens of other campaigns by native communities
across Canada, where natives are stubbornly refusing to be swallowed up by
corporate Canada. Even more appalling than fracking—if that’s possible—are
the Alberta tar sands, Canada’s largest source of greenhouse gases, arguably
the most environmentally destructive undertaking in history. And the
construction of the necessary pipelines to bring the toxic sludge to happy
consumers across North America and beyond. All enthusiastically promoted by
the Harper government.
Demonstrations against the tar sands are
going on this very minute across Canada and the US, with natives in the
forefront. The “No Line 9!” campaign to stop a pipeline between Sarnia and
Montreal, passing through 18 First Nation communities, held a protest at the
National Energy Board in Toronto 19 October, even as the Alberta government
declared a state of emergency and evacuated residents when 13 rail cars
carrying crude oil and liquefied gas exploded and leaked their poison, as if
to prove the demonstrators’ point.
In Saugeen Shores, Ojibwa First
Nation Chief Randall Kahgee refuses to be railroaded into approving a plan
by Ontario Power Generation to turn the Bruce Peninsula, a World Biosphere
designated area, into a nuclear waste dump. The Saugeen First Nation chief
told the Joint Review Panel: “Those generations yet to come, they’re going
to want to know, what did our ancestors do to make sure we still have our
relationship to those lands and those waters.”
natives are now being pressured by both Harper and ‘advised’ by former
Liberal and NDP leader Bob Rae to open their fragile sub-Arctic territories
to chromite mining and smelting projects in the James Bay ‘ring of fire’.
What does Rae think of the Mikmaqs’ refusal to allow fracking on their
lands? The tar sands? The nuclear waste dump in Bruce County? Will Rae
convince his tribal friends to cede the rights to their fragile sub-Arctic
lands for a few hundred million dollars?
There is ample evidence
that fracking is disastrous. River water in western Pennsylvania has radium
levels 200 times higher than normal downstream from a gas treatment plant,
according to a Duke University study. The toxic tar sands project has
prompted Europe to threaten to boycott Canadian oil. Nuclear waste will
continue to ‘give’ for tens of thousands of years.
For the first time
in Canadian history—from the native point of view, a history of occupation,
dispossession and manic economic development—the Mikmaqs of New Brunswick
and their allies across Canada in Idle No More are putting the option of
“No!” on the table, not just “How much money will we get to let the
corporations destroy our land?” “Treaty Day” replaces Columbus Day on my
calendar, and I hope, will someday be celebrated as an official Canadian