Derrick O’Keefe: Seize the moment, stand with Elsipogtog

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      “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”
      - 1984 by George Orwell

      Canada’s colonial past is present, however much Prime Minister Stephen Harper seeks to obfuscate the reality of the history of this land.

      This week has served as a prime example of how denial of past colonialism helps to perpetuate ongoing colonial relationships.

      The current flashpoint is the small town of Rexton, New Brunswick. There the Elsipogtog First Nation and their supporters are facing down massive RCMP repression of their protests against activity by SWN Resources, a company that is carrying out seismic testing for proposed shale gas fracking operations in the area.

      On Thursday (October 17), hundreds of RCMP officers, many heavily armed and including snipers, moved in against Elsipogtog land defenders who have maintained a protest camp and presence in the area for months. Dozens were arrested, and there were reports of rubber bullets fired by police forces. Several RCMP vehicles were set ablaze.

      Fracking may have been the latest spark, but Harper’s government has been fanning the flames for years—denying the true colonial history of Canada even while continuing to actively undermine the sovereignty and rights of First Nations.

      On Wednesday (October 16), the Conservative government presented their much-hyped speech from the throne. In it, they asserted that the founders of Canada “dared to seize the moment that history offered. Pioneers, then, few in number, reached across a vast continent” and “forged an independent country where none would have otherwise existed.”

      This was no one-off rhetorical flourish. This was just the latest expression of “Harper’s History”. In 2009, Harper, with a straight face, informed a press conference at a G20 summit that Canada “had no history of colonialism”.

      These seem like astounding and easily disproven assertions, but colonialism denial is real and useful because it serves colonialism present; it serves the primary purpose of the Conservative government today, which is to push through resource extraction projects—many of which are in direct contradiction with indigenous peoples—at all costs.

      The repression at Rexton and Harper’s latest bald-faced lie about Canadian history come in the same week that James Anaya, the UN’s special rapporteur on indigenous rights, issued a scathing report after a nine-day visit across the country. Anaya concluded that “Canada faces a crisis when it comes to the situation of indigenous peoples of the country.”

      Rexton, New Brunswick—Elsipogtog—now takes its place in a long and shameful history, joining Oka, Ipperwash, Gustafsen Lake, and so many more. At Ipperwash, unarmed protester Dudley George was killed by the OPP. At Gustafsen, 14 sun dancers asserting indigenous sovereignty were met with 400 RCMP officers, troops, armoured personnel carriers, and 70,000 rounds of ammunition.

      And this is just recent history.

      Contrary to the myth of seamless and peaceful nation-building, the modern Canadian state was built through the projection of force over and against indigenous peoples. The RCMP, and before it the Northwest Mounted Police, was formed for this express purpose.

      This is the colonial reality behind all assertions of the “rule of law”, past and present. It’s all about whose laws get enforced. Indigenous law? International law? Not in Harper’s Canada today, where the law of corporate profit rules.

      Only we can change that, and solidarity actions with the courageous land defenders of Elsipogtog are the first order of business.

      Susan Levi-Peters, a former chief, makes it clear that they remain determined in the face of RCMP sniper rifles, rubber bullets, and tear gas: “Nobody is leaving. We don’t want shale gas here. We have been asking for consultations for three years now and nothing has happened. Instead they just put our people in jail.”

      Idle No More has already shown us that creative, determined actions can reach across a vast continent, creating powerful movements where none would otherwise have existed.

      So let us seize the moment that history is offering. Let us stand with Elsipogtog.

      Find your local solidarity action on the We Are PowerShift site.




      Oct 18, 2013 at 12:11pm

      Excellent article. The only factor I would add is that SWN Resources is an American corporation, which thus adds to the layers of colonialist practices currently at work. (Canada is a banana republic whose hired goons/police forces work to repress popular/aboriginal dissent). Thank you Mr. O'Keefe for your critically astute analysis.


      Oct 18, 2013 at 12:53pm

      If the First Nations say NO it's NO!' Shale Gas is Wrong those who are pushing it are wrong, remember this people' this is Native Land and YOU are renters here, if you can not respect your land Lords then you will cause an up-rise, the Shale gas can and will leak into the water supply and KILL, Smarten up Canada!


      Oct 18, 2013 at 2:17pm

      Go fight the cops then tough guys and gals. Oh and be sure to never use any oil and gas, or oil and gas related products. So if you started walking now you could be there by the spring.


      Oct 18, 2013 at 3:03pm

      If this was always supposed to be a peaceful protest, why did any of the protesters bring Molotov cocktails, rifles, ammunition, knives, bayonets, and explosives?

      Johnny Goh

      Oct 18, 2013 at 4:22pm

      Well, assuming they did actually bring those things - because heaven knows, the police *never* lie about potential threats or evidence of it - I suppose they brought them for the same reason that the police brought theirs - to "defend" themselves.

      Blue butterfly woman

      Oct 18, 2013 at 11:40pm

      I am not a native person, but I was born on turtle island. If anyone threatened my mother earth, my family, my children and my community with the force the RCMP showed your damn right I would get pissed off and start destroying their weapons of colonialism. As a person living on turtle island I try to respect the traditional ways of this land...about time our government does too..


      Oct 19, 2013 at 10:11am

      Fracking: Bad
      First Nation: Bad
      RCMP: Bad
      The Georgia Strait: Bad

      Justin Flontek

      Oct 19, 2013 at 12:44pm

      It appears the RCMP had their own cars torched.

      Michel Gourd

      Oct 20, 2013 at 1:15pm

      The Elsipogtog’s people assert that they cannot accept passively the risk to see their region groundwater being contaminated with chemicals injected in the ground to extract gas. The 2011 Gasland movie made in the United States shows the dangers of such exploitation. It shows countrymen setting fire their tap water after wells were dug near their house. Many countries and provinces have already expressed by legal way their anxiety to see this situation occurring. France voted for a law in 2011, which forbids this kind of drillings. Quebec has for its part imposed in 2013 a total moratorium on this type of exploitation. In New Brunswick, chief medical officer of health, Eilish Cleary, recommendations concerning shale gas development show a lack of knowledge about its effect on resident’s health (
      But it is the governments of Canada and New Brunswick, which make laws on the lands of the Elsipogtog’s ancestors, not them. Having said politely not and peacefully resisted, they eventually used force to prevent the dismantling of their barricade. More than 40 persons will be judged as common law criminals because politicians did not solve this problem. Only the international community can help Canadian’s First Nations because peaceful actions and demonstrations of First Nations do not have the power to change laws in Canada.


      Oct 21, 2013 at 9:54am

      I don't like fracking but if this was any other group of Canadian people preventing people from working, would it be acclaimed as noble and wonderful?

      Real warriors have jobs.