Elsipogtog: What we need to be talking about

Despite the plethora of informative articles about the ongoing struggle at Elispogtog First Nation, north of Moncton, New Brunswick, and the RCMP raid there on October 17th, most mainstream media outlets have been underemphasizing some very important aspects of the conflict. As a result, many Canadians are focusing solely on the image of burning vehicles, and some are even going as far as to brand native protestors as terrorists.

Before engaging in a back and forth about who is more in the wrong, I suggest addressing some outstanding issues that for some reason are not treated as central to these events.

First is the issue of the way in which mainstream Canadian media so often fail to comprehensively report on indigenous issues. In their book, “Seeing Red,” Mark Anderson and Carmen Robertson researched English-language portrayals of indigenous peoples in the mainstream media since 1869. They found that media reports since that time have remained essentially the same, too often depicting natives as inferior morally, physically, mentally and historically.

What that research could not take into account, is how social media has made alternative media a viable option for a wider range of people. Thus, for those interested in this issue, there is much reportage and commentary that can be easily accessed beyond what little we’ve seen in mainstream media.

It is essential that we dig deeper, and form our opinions based on as wide a range of perspectives as possible. The majority of Canadians have been woefully under-informed about what is one of the most important outstanding issues related to the events in Elsipogtog: land and resource ownership.

In 1997, the landmark Supreme Court Decision in Delgamuukw finally clarified that even under Canadian law, Aboriginal title to most of the land within British Columbia’s provincial borders had never been extinguished. This ruling had immediate implications for other areas of the country where no treaties ceding land ownership were ever signed. One day, Canadians woke up to a legal reality in which millions of acres of land were recognized as never having been acquired by the Crown, and that elephant has been occupying our national room ever since.

Unfortunately, this glaring issue did not seem to percolate into the wider Canadian consciousness, and many people remain unaware of it. In 1999, the Supreme Court passed down another judgement confirming that the Peace and Friendship Treaties of 1760-1761 did not cede land or resources. This cannot be emphasized strongly enough: the Mi’kmaq never gave up legal rights to their land or resources. Canada does not own the land that the people of Elsipogtog are defending.

This is not conspiracy theory, or indigenous interpretation. This is Canadian law, interpreted by the Supreme Court of Canada, applying Canadian constitutional principles. Yet somehow, this most important fact is left out of most reports on Elsipogtog as though it is barely relevant.

Often misunderstood by the general public, too, is that the people of Elsipogtog have widespread support from Acadians and Anglos in the area. In fact, the majority of people living in New Brunswick support a moratorium on fracking, in direct opposition to Premier David Alward’s wholehearted embracing of shale gas exploration. Opposition to fracking is not a fringe position; it is the majority position in the Atlantic provinces and elsewhere throughout Canada.

So here you have a group of people who never gave up ownership of their land or resources, opposing widely contested shale gas exploration, which was approved by a government that does not own the land or resources, acting with the support of their non-native neighbours and being reported on by mainstream media outlets that often fail to address the substantive issues.

All of this is extremely problematic, even if you do not take into account the violence and the timing of the Oct. 17 RCMP raid.

None of these facts are changed by burning cars, by the presence or absence of rubber bullets, or by whether or not Canadians like indigenous peoples. Those attempting to paint the people of Elsipogtog as law breakers must not be allowed to ignore the wider legal context which calls into question the legitimacy of resource exploitation without consent anywhere in Canada, particularly on unceded lands.

Early in November, SWN Resources’ lawyer offered to withdraw a lawsuit against several community members if the company could finish exploration. Indigenous and non-Indigenous allies in the area reaffirmed their intention to stand together in defence of the land.

Today, the people of Elsipogtog and their allies continue to stand, with their drums, their eagle feathers and their concerns for the land and for the legacy of all future generations. A line of armed RCMP officers have once again faced them, ostensibly to protect public safety as SWN Resources attempted to move exploration vehicles back into the area. Using the #Elsipogtog tag, social media has made it possible for people throughout Canada and the rest of the world to access real time information from mainstream and independent media sources as the situation develops. Many hope that this immediate scrutiny will encourage the RCMP to avoid moving in with overwhelming force once more.

Fears of renewed violence should not blind us to the underlying issues: unresolved land claims, resource development without prior and informed consent, concerns of environmental degradation and inadequate economic benefits to residents. Elsipogtog is just one area of the country coming face to face with the consequences of these problems. This is not a “native” issue; this situation impacts every single one of us living on these lands.


Originally posted in the Toronto Star on November 14, 2013.

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10 Responses to Elsipogtog: What we need to be talking about

  1. Thank you for this Reality Check! I just saw the movie – Mandela, A Long Walk to Freedom, and was struck by the racist Canadian colonial parallels. Your commentary makes the comparison explicit … crystal clear. I hope that these facts, that counter selective media’s smoke an mirror tactics to promote big business are driven home… sharing this far and wide!

    Many Thanks, from a very concerned White colonial Canadian;I am never sure how to properly and respectfully identify my racial background. I see identifying myself as imperative to any discourse I take part in, because ‘everything’ I see and do, revolves around who I am where I stand. In solidarity, Laurie Harding

    • S-kw'etu'? says:

      Respectfully I may be able to help you with your identity, because we both have the same problem, the colonial state has and is insisting it has the right to dictate not only my identity but yours as well and that amongst other unethical, immoral and illegal activities they insist on committing is victimizing everything. Also I would like to point out that racism, and race are the foundation of Canada and Canadian culture, culture unlike race has to be learned by people, and unlearned.

      According to Canada you are a Canadian which is not a good thing.
      According to Canada I am an Indian which is not a good thing either.

      Because of Canada I am also a genocide survivor which is despite what many Canadians claim is no big deal and ancient history, that is a lie, this is in fact an ugly reality I and many others now have to live with, it is a horrific place to exist in, one that I would not wish on anyone.

      Considering the facts behind the fiction that is Canada we have to look for the facts as to who we both are.

      I am a descendant of the Salish people, my s-tálashen clan territory is called ḵálp-ílín, I am despite what Canada has tried to force me to be, still an indigenous person because I refuse to give up my culture, my spirituality and my rights. Because I am a blood descendant of my ancestors and clan I am now an indigenous person who is responsible for the care and stewardship of my inherited territories, not Canada. Race has nothing to do with this either, in this date in time their are no pure racial people, we are all just human beings. Many people who are of similar racial makeup as I am are not indigenous people because the had it removed through assimilation, this is not about race it is about culture.

      Who I see you as Laurie Harding is not as a white colonial canadian, you are a settler on indigenous owned territories, that is not a crime, being born is not a crime, you like I was were hardly in a position to pick your parents or heritage, so you won’t be penalized for that from me at least. How you chose to define yourself beyond being a settler is your choice, you have the right to do that, you chose your spirituality, you create yourself in a way that makes you feel good about yourself, but please do so in a way that is respectful to our indigenous territories which first and foremost must be protected and cared for because with out them we will not be able to exist. They are not nor will ever be for sale, they will be here for all of our descendants can continue to exist on what my ancestors preserved and what we enjoy now. And do feel free to define yourself as an ally, there are not many indigenous people left and we sure need all the help we can get. ?úl-nú-msh-chálap

  2. Thank you for your kind words S-kw’etu’? I take your words to heart and hope to be of use, raising my voice to these injustices whenever and where ever I can.
    Respectfully, Laurie (I’ll change my ID to settlercanadian 🙂

  3. Mami Mokii says:

    The island lands and waters of Hawai’i were never ceded to the United States either. No treaty of cession, no ceded lands, period. The hypocrUSy of the United States emanates from its very core. Twenty U.S. Congressional Medals of Honor were awarded to the U.S. soldiers who massacred 150 starving and freezing men, women and children Native Americans at Wounded Knee a little over a century ago..such justUS now prevails globally.

  4. Steve Plummer says:

    I would like to weigh in as well as I have made it my business to remain informed on the events surrounding the Mi’kmaq and their resistance to fracking on their land as well as the battles going on against Enbridge and the exploitation of tribal lands across Canada and the U.S.

    I agree with S-kw’etu’? on two very important points. One is that no one can be to blame for the race they were born into. The other is that the indigenous peoples can use all the help they can get. I am a firm ally with all indigenous peoples across the globe because the same exploitation and genocide is happening everywhere. This is certainly not a Canadian or U.S. problem, but rather a global problem with dire consequences for humanity as a whole.

    I am white and from the U.S. because this is where I was born. And because of that I was raised in a culture that taught me that to be a good citizen meant that I should be a consumer and that I should look at the world as a vast resource to be exploited for the “good” of the economy among other things. And there were many, many things I was not taught and therefor did not understand. I was not taught of the genocide of the indigenous peoples of this land. I wasn’t taught that the injustices my people committed have not only never been rectified, but are ongoing. I had to learn these things on my own. And I have. And it is because I have that I have turned away from much of what my culture stands for. And why I have become active in supporting indigenous issues across the globe. I refuse to be defined by either my race or it’s culture. And this is what is most needed to begin to turn the tide on the massive exploitation of the Earth by the greed and indifference of the prevailing culture that is now covering the world. We are all of one race. The human race. And we must all come together collectively to stand up for what is right or we will all pay the consequences for what is wrong.

    This is why I stand with you as brother and will defend what I know to be right, whether it be the events at Elispogtog First Nation, or anywhere else. As long as we are divided by race we are all subject to the exploitation of the predominant government and the greedy corporations that control it. The us against them fight that needs to be fought should not be one race versus another, but rather one world view versus another. Sanity against insanity. I honor all indigenous peoples and their fight to protect their land, their people and their culture against ignorance and destruction. And I will continue to do everything I can whether I am considered a white settler or any other definition that only serves to separate us as human.

  5. S-kw'etu'? says:

    You are bang on Steve, but you have to realize or understand that you are ten steps ahead of most human beings and I do often use that term when I write on other topics, I use it cautiously and as you did to point out the obvious. I chose to use settler for Laurie because she is a Canadian and there are other factors that have to be considered. Jumping ahead into a golden age is not as easy or possible right now for most people, no matter how much better life could be for all of us if we could. It took a long, long time to create this mess, much longer than the time it has been in North America and we have to exercise some patience when it comes to clarifying and solving it. The fact that it hasn’t been acknowledged by many Canadian’s is the first step.

    As the writer of the original article, Chelsea Vowel, pointed out there is at least one white elephant in the room that has yet to be dealt with. For example Gord Hill posted a story on his website today that the ‘British Columbia’ government was fined by a company for failing to consult with the first nations when selling their timber, the company had been trying to sue an 82 year old native elder among others but was unable to because he they were not in violation of any laws, Canadian or native. They did drag that elder through years of court battles thereafter knowing full well when they made the deal and sold that timber that they were violating their own laws, who does that to elderly people or any people? And why are elders forced to sit and protect their own property against the actions of a government’s who are knowingly violating the very rights they gave those people and all people. Back to Chelsea Vowel’s article and the Delgamuukw decision, it is not crown land, there are no treaties, it is native land, yet the supreme court of Canada in their decision still defined the land as crown land. The game playing and flouting the rules continues unabated by them and we continue to resist but it is a lose lose scenario. BC lost that case so now has to pay out 1.75 million dollars to the company who they knowingly entered into an illegal resource transaction with and where is that money going to come from? BC’s economy which is apparently more valuable than life funds itself primarily from resource extraction of unceded native territories, as well as taking a portion of the income of working Canadians which we are part of too. Seriously so no one who earns income on a reservation has to pay taxes, how much economic action do people thing is being generated on a reservation? Most of us do not live on reservation’s much less find employment there, I never have and am glad, they are miserable places, we have no choice but to contribute to the tax pool even though we know how it is being used, none of us do. The truth of the matter is most native people get shafted twice unlike Canadians who only get shafted once and we get shafted a lot harder. This game playing and corporate subsidizing goes on repeatedly, that is what it comes down to, the blockades and arrests, they are subsidies provided by the state for what is suppose to be a free capitalist system. We take our stands, like the Mi’kmaq do all the time, many of us are fully aware of what is really going on but are silenced, people need to know, not shut us out.

    Another huge white elephant is the genocide, that is pretty horrific, massive and very ugly, it is far from over. Genocide is an us and them scenario, usually race, sometimes cultural or religious, but understanding the components and how they came to be and how the effect the people is needed in order to stop the situation from occurring or continuing, our genocide and the destruction of our culture or people is still being sought after by Canada and many Canadians. We are being labelled the guilty party by the media, Canadian’s and Canada are our victims, many Canadian’s still want our culture forcibly extinguished and destroyed without the slightest idea of what our culture is, who we are or why any of this is taking place. The democratic system they insist on using despite being corrupt and flawed, will support this happening, we are only four percent of the population, the government’s are still just effectively trying to find a way to finally achieve it and claim these territories for real this time. With us gone the absence of treaties won’t be a problem or potentially an embarrassment to Canada’s shining reputation with its world trade partners. I just don’t want to see happen because I know this is not in any ones best interest. They already have their tax slaves, they just need our land and bang, won’t their bottom line flourish and the rest of life suffer thereafter.

    Added to this is the still powerful element of racism, racism does not just dissolve, and it is a huge part of this sick reality. As the above article points out how we have been depicted by the media, is part of it, the spin that is used paints us as the culprit’s, and Canadian’s as the victims, while Canada the state gets to be portrayed a good hearted sugar daddy who has been more than kind and generous with us nasty little Indians at the poor tax payers expense so they want it to stop seeing us a lazy freeloaders who are taking advantage of them. The truth is far, far different than the spin but the spin is easily believed, it is easier than finding the truth which due to the internet is readily and easily accessible, not many bother to look for it though. The hatred and racial dislike of indigenous people by Canadian’s is huge, it is the biggest and potentially most dangerous of all the White Elephants. The violence perpetuated against indigenous people is horrific, state, police and some citizens all partake in this with the belief that their actions are justified yet a lot of this reality is hushed up, and that lumpy rug just gets lumpier.

    You see Steve, Laurie knows these three elephants exist, and until they are addressed, understood and dealt with she does not feel comfortable labelling herself as a human being, the same as all other human beings because in colonial Canada that is not the case. Equality is not the same, there is still a vast chasm between native and non-native people which cannot be simply and easily bridged. When I read this article and saw her response I jumped in because I was concerned for her, I saw how she wanted to begin to enter into a discussion with the Chelsea Vowels, aware that the writer is Metis and she was being very sensitive to how easily she could make the matter worse by doing like so many Canadian’s do, assuming, she asked for guidance. Knowing the situation and having encountered it in other people who are feeling pretty bad about themselves and their white skin I offered her settler which I did not compose, I know it is being used by other Canadian’s who are feeling much like she is. These are hard realities for Canadian’s to come to learn about, what has been happening leaves them feeling very bad about themselves, the potential for trauma is high on both sides as we try to stop and heal from this reality. I don’t want people like Laurie or yourself to feel bad about yourselves, race doesn’t matter, skin pigment does not matter, and shame should not come between people, that will stop the conversations which need to happen. We do need all the allies we can get, you both are wonderful allies because you are enlightened enough to seek the truth, and you both have stronger voices because you are not Indians, you are not being painted as the criminals or terrorists like we are. You need us too, we all need each other, that is how we are suppose to function, that is how all life on the Mother is meant to function, we all rely on each other to exist, what is happening now is not just environmentally dangerous, it is harmful is so many, many other ways. Settler Ally allows Laurie to define herself in a positive way, it allows her to step away from the colonial reality and that is a really good thing for all parties, except the government and corporations. Right now is the way it has to be, until equality and people get along side by side and learn how to respect each other the we are all just human beings or we are all equal cannot be spoken between all parties or in all instances, because as things stand right now it is just another lie and there has been far too many of those told already.

  6. daveM says:

    Although exploitation of the lands will result in a disaster in future, our politicians are hell bent on feeding corporations and they will do whatever at whatever cost to generate profits.

    In Canada the standard of living is constantly eroding while profits increase and employment becomes lower paying. all part of the grand plan to feed corporate profits.

    How shortsighted.!

    I have asked many times why we have small children without good schooling and fresh water and decent housing to receive no reply. I assume that corporations have been placed on a higher level than citizens in this remarkable society.

  7. nellymills says:

    Spammer hammered. Maybe you are a target. Now, who would do that? Sickening thought. Could have been random. Keep writing this powerful blog CV. with respect. ~~nel

  8. deen says:

    Hi Steve Plummer
    Am glad you are trying to know the truth.Indeed there can be no justice founded
    on lying and stealing and murder of Native people and their land.So the truth MUST come first.However today in 2014 the lies of settlers and the lies of them bringing civilization and christianity to the amereicas are still being taught in schools as the truth.
    For all who are interested in learning the truth of what has really taken place, please see the following link.Through it you may be guided to some of the hidden truth.

  9. Thank you for sharing this Truth Full resource… to help us to not only see but to address the Elephant of present day colonialism. I will be practicing the National Day of Mourning on UnThanksgiving Day in Canada.
    One thing I have come to consider is the unsettling reality that as a Settler – there will never be an equal starting place… our history has taken care of that. I can take solace knowing that I can take responsibility, and work to create change. There is an imperative, so that my children and grandchildren will not be asking me what I ‘did’ about it. We have to educate our own… even if the system won’t. The system won’t until we stand behind and demand the truth.

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