After the stunning display of force by RCMP at a peaceful anti-fracking protest at Rexton, N.B., First Nations across the country were quick to pledge their support to the Elsipogtog First Nation members that took the brunt of the assault.
The Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) “categorically condemns” the RCMP, it said in a news release, and “unconditionally supports the Elsipogtog First Nation in exercising their Aboriginal and human rights.” The council said legitimate concerns about the environmental impacts of shale gas fracking were being raised by the protesters. Fracking could have serious and negative impacts on Elsipogtog’s traditional territory and the health of its citizens, the release continued. Rather than being able to raise concerns about the issues of shale gas fracking, the Elsipogtog Nation “was met with pepper spray, rubber bullets and arrest.”
Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come stated: “At a time in Canada’s history when the intensified search for natural resources presents an opportunity for this country to address fundamental Aboriginal concerns in an honorable and dignified way, the decision to meet the concerns of the Elsipogtog First Nation with brute force is shameful. There is another path, a path of authentic dialogue, reconciliation and inclusion, which is the only honorable way to move forward. To miss this historic opportunity will be disastrous for Canada. The response to the Elsipogtog First Nation sends a very provocative and ill-advised message to Aboriginal peoples across the country.”
National Chief Shawn Atleo of the Assembly of First Nations called the RCMP raid in the early morning hours of Oct. 17 an “extreme use of state force and control.” In a letter to New Brunswick Premier David Alward, Atleo said the “peaceful protest” on Elsipogtog First Nation was “disrupted through police and military intervention.” “The actions of police this morning have been completely unacceptable,” he wrote.
In a letter to Elsipogtog Chief Arren Sock, who was also arrested, Atleo offered his support and called the RCMP and province’s actions “heavy-handed.” “I am aware that your community has engaged in good faith negotiations towards a peaceful resolution,” he stated. And the raid was “a direct affront to your efforts at reaching a diplomatic solution.”
The Union of BC Indian Chiefs, through President Stewart Phillip, said the “display of brute force is completely ugly, outrageous and harkens back to the Oka, Ipperwash and Caledonia conflicts.” In spite of Elsipogtog’s best efforts to resolve the issue peacefully, the heavily armed RCMP aggressively moved to enforce an injunction.
“Canada cannot continue to viciously cast aside our Aboriginal title, rights and treaty rights,” said Chief Bob Chamberlin, vice-president of the UBCIC. “In light of Dr. James Anaya’s, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, recent visit to Canada, this type of severe action by the RCMP reflects a government that continues to ignore Indigenous land rights—our human rights—to pretend it has a productive relationship with Indigenous peoples founded on reconciliation and respect.”
The St’at’imc Chiefs Council out of Lillooet, B.C., called Elsipogtog the “latest victim of Canada’s refusal to acknowledge and negotiate honorably concerning the issue of Aboriginal title and rights in this country.”
The council said Prime Minister Stephen Harper has paid “ample lip-service” to reconciliation, but his government has “utterly failed to honor the concept of reconciliation. Harper has chosen to champion the exploration and development of natural gas, oil and associated pipelines—“hoping tear gas and water cannons will resolve the ‘Indian problem’,” said Chief Garry John, the council’s chairperson.
“It is predictable this is the same type of ‘negotiations’ Canada will unleash when they meet resistance against the controversial Northern Gateway and the Trans-mountain pipeline projects in British Columbia,” said the chief. He said he wished to remind Harper that Indigenous People were not going to disappear, would prefer respectful negotiations, but will join “our brothers and sisters on the road if we are forced to.”
Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations said his organization fully supports and stands in solidarity with First Nations in their quest to protect lands and water, and called on the province of New Brunswick and industry to respect and honor the duty to consult Aboriginal peoples and accommodate their concerns. Bellegarde said the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples calls for free, prior and informed consent as a minimum standard for engagement with Indigenous peoples on matters of significant concern. “We ask for a peaceful resolution through thoughtful, informed and committed dialogue from all parties concerned. We offer our support toward a peaceful solution to the events unfolding in New Brunswick and across our territories.
The Assembly of First Nations’ Chiefs in New Brunswick called for the provincial government to suspend shale gas exploration permits until a peaceful solution to the dispute can be negotiated. Assembly co-chair George Ginnish said such a step would be part of the “cooling off period” agreed to by Elsipogtog Chief Arren Sock and Premier Alward in the wake of the violent confrontation in Rexton.
“We have been saying that this process has been rushed from Day 1,” said Ginnish, chief of Eel Ground First Nation. “There is concern in many areas, not just the First Nations.”