Feathers versus Guns.
This is the image you see everywhere these days. A powerful photo taken by Ossie Michelin as he covered the violent actions by police on peaceful protesters in Elsipogtog, New Brunswick.
I took an hour to read the news reports, browsed social media and group-think sites like reddit and quickly realized that the true story was being buried in favour of the old adage: If it Bleeds, it Leads. And the even older one: The Wild, Uncivilized Savage.
In this case, the threatening image of the Natives resisting authority, burning cars, presumably wanting more handouts. Such is the simplistic and institutionalized racism of most media reporting in Canada.
But indigenous lawyer Pam Palmater, perhaps a polarizing figure herself, wrote an informed and scathing article that gained some traction and was broadcast on sites like rabble.ca and the Huffington Post.
It is more than coincidental timing — it was obviously strategically calculated with the completion of the Governor General’s speech from the throne and the end of the United Nations Special Rapporteur James Anaya’s visit to Canada. Yesterday morning, we awoke to reports from the Mi’kmaw of swarms of RCMP dispatched to Elsipogtog to enforce Harper’s aggressive natural resource agenda. He has effectively declared war on the Mi’kmaw.
This is not the first time Canada has declared war on the Mi’kmaw. In 1981, law enforcement led an attack on the Mi’kmaw at Restigouche to stop them from controlling their own Aboriginal fishery. During this attack, Mi’kmaw suffered multiple injuries, some severe and numerous arrests.
In 1998, the government intervened in Listuguj because the traditional Mi’kmaw government shut down the logging company that was stealing timber from Mi’kmaw lands and because the Mi’kmaw started to harvest their own timber.
Between 1999 and 2001, Canada once again declared war on the Mi’kmaw Nation at Esgenoopitij (Burnt Church First Nation) in NB to stop them from fishing lobster. This was despite the fact the Mi’kmaw had proven their treaty right to fish lobster at the Supreme Court of Canada. Law enforcement rammed Mi’kmaw fishing boats, injured fisherman and issued numerous arrests.
All of these actions were done in violation of the numerous treaties between the Mi’kmaw and the Crown which were peace and friendship treaties intended to once and for all end hostilities and work together as Nation to Nation partners. Given that our treaties are constitutionally protected, Canada’s actions are not only tyrannical and oppressive, but also illegal.
Today, in 2013, the government has once again decided that brute force is the way to handle The Mi’kmaw women, elders, and children drumming and singing in peaceful protest against hydro-fracking at Elsipogtog. Media reports 200 RCMP officers were dispatched, some of them from the riot squad, armed with shields, assault rifles, batons, tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper spray and snipers. Some of the RCMP, in full camo, hid in the woods, while the others formed a large barricade on the highway blocking any movement by protesters.
People started to question things.
Why weren’t we told about this in the news? Is this history right? Why wasn’t I taught about this in school?
It’s not too surprising. The more factual information you give people, the less inclined they are to believe the easy answers they’ve been fed all their lives and independent thinking begins to happen, breaking free of the entrenched viewpoints that they’ve inherited.
I get a lot of questions these days about water. People are waking up to the startling reality that Indigenous people are the last defense against the complete rape and destruction of the land and the pollution of water. Who benefits from this destruction, anyway?
Well, workers get a decent income while the bonanza lasts, but their grandchildren inherit the mess and the cancers.
Politicians get to show what a great job they are doing and so grab another 4 years of power, golden handshakes, and pad their pensions and opportunities after they leave office.
Corporations get to report to their investors a profitable quarter and the CEO keeps her/his job plus a nice return in either a raise or increased stock value.
All as selfish as people can get, aside from the worker who may not understand the death sentence their small actions give their great grandchildren.
Short term thinking is the cause of all these problems.
We conveniently push aside the undeniable fact that we are killing our ability to live on this earth, anymore. That our comfort today is bought with the unimaginable suffering of our families who come after.
And those who benefit now are behind a consistent effort to rid the world of the Native Problem.
They indoctrinate the public until many people actively HATE native peoples.
Because the vision is short. It doesn’t extend back even one generation or forward one generation.
It is a case of ignorance of history and ignorance of consequences leading to conclusions that simply can not stand in the real world.
Take Rex Murphy of the CBC for example. Presumably in response to the growing questions and mild support the people of Elsipogtog were starting to receive he decided to pen his own thoughts on the matter in an opinion piece (and I’m not joking) entitled: A rude dismissal of Canada’s generosity.
Then there is also an even more deplorable effort to frame the interactions between Canadians and Canada’s aboriginal peoples as a genocide — an accusation both illiterate and insulting.
The Canadian present is a vastly different place from the Canadian past, and not to acknowledge that, further, not to act on the great benign difference between the two, is willful blindness and reckless distortion.
Can Canada be accused of willful neglect, even racism as some radicals portray it, when every government — and I keep insisting the majority of citizens — really has made efforts to end poverty on reserves, to offer programs to rescue youth from the perils of drugs and addiction, to keep basic services working?
Aboriginal issues are the ones on which — regardless of party — most politicians display the greatest sensitivity and make the strongest efforts to connect. These issues are treated with the greatest delicacy.
What was that august and dignified ceremony in the House of Commons of June, 11, 2008 about, the ceremony in which all leaders of national parties, face to face in the Chamber with band leaders and chiefs, most eloquently Phil Fontaine, came together to express on behalf of all citizens of Canada their regret and apology over residential schools — a cruel wrong that symbolizes so many other cruel wrongs? That was the real public window on how Canada feels towards its native peoples — and should still be a starting point to the work of reconciliation and repair that all good-souled people in this country, native and non-native, really want. That’s what was felt that day by leader Mary Simon in her searing words to the Prime Minister: “I have to face you to say this because it comes from the bottom of my heart,” she said. “The generosity in the words chosen to convey this apology will help us end this dark period.”
It sounds remorseful, a tear shed for the cold fashion in which the Natives spurn the ever peaceful, ever generous overtures of the Canadian people – doesn’t it?
It sounds good until you do one small ounce of critical thinking.
Residential Schools. The last one closed in 1995. Not 1885, but 1995.
The people had to take the Canadian government to court just to get them to start talking Truth and Reconciliation.
The Truth and Reconciliation program has been actively attacked by the current government since it’s inception.
The youth Rex cares for so deeply receive 20% less funding than other Canadians. Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada has been in legal clashes with the government just to get First Nations youth on a level playing field. In response the government has spent at least 1.5 Million dollars of taxpayer’s money spying on her.
And the list could go on and on without stop.
And so I leave you with today’s latest article, written by Martin Lukacs for the Guardian.
Images of burning cars and narratives about Canadian natives breaking the law obscure the real story about the Mi’kmaq people’s opposition to shale gas exploration
The image of burning police cars played endlessly on the evening news. Television and talk radio blared out reports of “clashes” between police and indigenous protestors. Last Thursday in New Brunswick near the Elsipogtog First Nation, we were told the government had enforced an injunction against a blockade of a US shale gas company. There was nothing about the roots of a conflict years in the making. An appeal to the stereotype of indigenous violence was enough: once again, the natives were breaking the law; the police had to be sent in. Catching the headlines, Canadian could shake their heads and turn away their gaze.
But smoke and flames from police cars can only hide the truth for so long. The exact chronology is not yet settled, but this much is clear: on Thursday morning someone in government sanctioned the Canadian police to invade a peaceful protest site like an army. In a dawn raid, snipers crawled through the forest, putting children and elders in their cross-hairs. Police carried assault rifles and snarling dogs, and sprayed tear gas and shot rubber-type bullets. The result was predictable: shocked and enraged people, a day ending in chaos.
There is only one reason the police were unleashed. Not because of the New Brunswick Premier’s claims about the dangers of an “armed encampment”; protestors had been unswervingly non-violent for months. Ever since 2010, when New Brunswick handed out 1.4 million hectares of land – one-seventh of the province – to shale gas exploration, opposition had been mounting. Petitions, town hall meetings, marches on legislature had slowly transformed to civil disobedience, and in October, to the blockade of equipment that Texan SNW Resources was using for seismic testing. The company was losing $60,000 daily, and the non-violent defiance had put a wrinkle in the Premier’s plans for a resource boom. The blockade had to go.
But let’s be clear about one way this is a “native issue”: the rush underway for dirtier and more extreme fossil fuels and minerals, in New Brunswick and across Canada, is just the latest stage of colonial pillage. It’s a badly-kept secret that Canada’s oil, gas and mineral wealth, the key to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s reckless resource obsession, are mostly on Indigenous lands. And if industry is to have them, the country’s national myths must be summoned. In last week’s Speech from the Throne, Harper praised the “courage and audacity” of the country’s “pioneers,” who “forged an independent country where non would have otherwise existed.” A day later, the raid on Elsipogtog was effectively a footnote.
Levi-Peters says the Mi’kmaq remember the “audacity” all too well. How their nation signed a peace and friendship treaty in 1761 to let the English settle but not to trample Mi’kmaq interests. How before they came for the shale gas, they came for the timber, the fish, the wildlife. And then for the children, locked away in residential schools and split from their connection to the land. The farms that were burnt to push them onto reserves. And how every act of resistance has been greeted by the same lectures from authority. “In no way can we as a country of laws condone the breaking of laws and violence,” Premier Alward reminded them on Friday.
Tell that to Levi-Peters and the rest of the Mi’kmaq, who have been betrayed again and again by the law. The Canadian Supreme Court’s judgment in the historic Marshall case in 1999 recognized the Mi’kmaq rights to fish for a living. But when the Mi’kmaq’s attempted to practice that right, their boats were rammed by government officials, their nets destroyed by non-native fishers agitated by state misinformation. That same judgment confirmed that the treaty of 1761 had never surrendered their lands. That Elsipogtog still owns, in fact, what SNW Resources now covets. And that the injunction order by a provincial judge is a convenient legal fiction, backed only by the power of brute police force.
This is the vast and enduring violence that is scarcely spoken of: a history of dispossession and resource theft under the guise of the “law.” What Harper and every premier now offers indigenous peoples are promises they will have “every opportunity to benefit.” They won’t. In Elsipogtog, unemployment tips 80 percent and they want jobs, but fracking is too great a risk. As many as twenty people crowd into one house, in a community that needs 500 new homes. Their share of a multi-billion dollar resource rush will be destitution and despair on its outskirts.
Please read the entire article here: New Brunswick fracking protests are the frontline of a democratic fight
We are in a time where we choose complacency and comfort for today, or striving and standing to forge for our children a better tomorrow.
The people of Elsipogtog will be able to face their children and say, “Yes, I stood for you.”