by Travis Lupick
First Nations protesters who took part in last fall’s anti-fracking protests in Elsipogtog, New Brunswick, are leading a speaking tour through British Columbia and the Yukon.
Suzanne Patles and other member of the Mi’kmaq Warriors Society are scheduled to arrive in Vancouver on January 24 for the first of seven stops through the west.
In a telephone interview, Patles described the Elsipogtog standoff as part of a larger struggle that’s shared by B.C. First Nations who oppose developments like pipelines proposed for the Alberta tar sands (also known as the oil sands).
“We are all being systematically displaced within our own traditional territories,” Patles explained. “Once they destroy our territories and these resource companies are gone, we will be the ones left with destroyed land and poisoned water.”
On October 17, 2013, the RCMP broke up a three-week Elsipogtog First Nation protest that blocked access to a fracking project operated by SWN Resources Canada outside the town of Rexton, New Brunswick. Authorities used pepper spray and fired nonlethal “sock rounds” to disperse the crowds. Six RCMP vehicles were set on fire, and 40 people were arrested.
According to SWN Resources, a wholly owned subsidiary of Houston-based Southwestern Energy, the company plans to move ahead with the drilling of exploratory wells in New Brunswick. On December 9, CTV News reported that New Brunswick’s premier, David Alward, said he was “certainly hopeful” SWN would return and continue with business in the province.
Patles said that many First Nations groups have made it clear they oppose oil and natural gas developments regardless of the economic benefits promised by the government and corporations.
“Fracking is an important issue, but it is not only fracking,” she said. “This is also about pipelines. There are going to be pipelines coming through all of our territories, and it is important that we realize that we have original title to the land, and that with anything that comes through our territories, the government and these corporations require our consent in order to proceed.”
Patles listed a number of topics she expects to address on the speaking tour.
“We’re going to be discussing the Mi’kmaq Warriors Society’s involvement in the indigenous resurgence that has occurred in our territory and we’re going to be discussing the mistreatment of our political prisoners of war,” she said. “We’re also going to speak about our treaties and our rights, we’re going to be speaking about the sacredness of the water, how resource development negates our rights, and how important it is to take a stand.”
Patles added that the speaking tour also aims to call attention to the incarceration of Aaron Francis and Germain Breau, two First Nations members who were arrested at the Elsipogtog demonstration on October 17 and who have remained in detention ever since.
According to Patles, a date for Francis’ trial has been pushed back to March 17, and Breau’s will not begin until March 31.
The Mi’kmaq Warrior Society’s first speaking engagement is scheduled for January 24 at Capilano University. A second event the same day will take place at downtown Vancouver’s SFU Harbour Centre. A complete schedule for the West Coast tour is available on Facebook.