I don’t even begin to know how to start this. Last week, when I wrote about the arrest for piracy of Greenpeace’s Arctic 30, I saw in that action clear evidence that Russia is a state that is run differently from mine.
For all of my deep suspicion concerning Canada’s current corporately-branded ‘Harper Government’, I was still convinced that we have the possibility of pursuing dissent and change within our systems.
Today, I’m no longer convinced. The two-week-old blockade by members of the Mi’kmaq First Nation near Rexton, New Brunswick erupted into violence today, with Royal Canadian Mounted Police arriving en masse to enforce an injunction intended to move the Mi’kmaq protestors away from their blockade. The blockade’s purpose is to stop exploration by a Texas-based company aimed at exploiting expected pockets of natural gas trapped in the shale of the region.
If you haven’t heard of fracking—hydraulic fracturing—yet, just wait until it comes to a spot near you. This process is well-documented to cause serious environmental damage, including, but not limited to, poisoning water supplies in the affected area.
The Mi’kmaq, along with many non-native residents of the area, do not want to see this practise taking place, and are exercising their right and responsibility to protest. They are made up of all ages, from children to elders. Despite RCMP claims today that there were gunshots and firearms violations on the part of the Mi’kmaq, the protesters are not ‘armed’ (especially in contrast to the heavily armed RCMP contingent).
Today, things got ugly. Clearly, the force of ‘law’ is considered now in Canada to be something enforceable with an iron fist, particularly when the activities of oil and gas companies are concerned.
The images coming from Rexton today were shameful. Camouflaged tactical units armed with rifles (and deployed in forests), canine units, and police in tactical gear later supplemented with riot shields, etc. arrived early this morning. In the meantime, after aggressive action on the RCMP’s part sparked a clash that left 5 or 6 police units in flames and 40 Mi’kmaq warriors under arrest (including at least one elder), reports have come in of up to 500 additional troops joining them, complete with an armoured personnel carrier. They withdrew in the late afternoon, regrouping, no doubt for redoubled efforts tomorrow.
Suddenly, the Russian charges of piracy against the Arctic 30 are seeming less out-of-the-ordinary. Greenpeace is ‘just a bunch of hippie environmentalists’, after all. Bring on the full weight of a police state. Elsipogtog is just a bunch of natives, right? (In Canada, racism towards natives is a barely-concealed substratum in many parts of our society. Non-native Canadians learn how to be dismissive towards natives in subtle yet consistent ways throughout their lives.) Why not roll on with the tanks?
Yesterday’s Throne Speech, outlining the ‘Harper Government’ strategy for the next session of Parliament, included a remarkable statement concerning the foundation of our country:
we draw inspiration from our founders, leaders of courage and audacity. Nearly 150 years ago, they looked beyond narrow self-interest. They faced down incredible challenges—geographic, military, and economic. They were undaunted. They dared to seize the moment that history offered. Pioneers, then few in number, reached across a vast continent. They forged an independent country where none would have otherwise existed.
This is remarkable. In 2013, the ‘Harper Government’ somehow has stepped back half a millennium to a 15th-century concept of terra nullius—literarily ’empty land’—coupled with straight-up Lockean libertarianism. (If you’ve never run into this before, it’s the concept of land ownership that sees ownership as coming from agriculture and fences. Natives could not own land in the way that European settlers did, because they didn’t do any of the things that Europeans considered ‘ownership’.)
And it goes on. If this was a primarily non-native-led blockade, I don’t think that we would have seen this get out of hand so quickly as it did today. But the time is coming when this sort of protest is going to be more and more common, as we slowly wake up to the realities of our part in global environmental catastrophe. Then the armoured personnel carriers, pepper spray and rifles will be aimed at anyone with the temerity to do what these brave souls are already doing.
Of course, if European-derived culture had anything like the attitude towards environment that aboriginal culture did and does, then we might not be in this mess to begin with.
This was not an empty land. Land use and resource extraction, from shale gas to tar sands bitumen, are issues that belong to all Canadians, at the very least. The world is looking on with horror (or avarice, depending on which sector we’re talking about), but only we can bring about change.
It is time to withdraw the RCMP, and to stop the process leading to fracking. It is time to recognize that we can’t carry on as we have been. It is time to show the ‘Harper Government’ that their corporate control of Canada is no longer approved by its shareholders.
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I am publishing this as the Mi’kmaq warriors are only a few scant hours from whatever the ‘Harper Government’ has to throw at them today. We can only hope that today’s events are not followed by even more violence tomorrow.