COLUMN: Legal claims of First Nations being ignored - Oct. 29, 2013
On a gloomy Saturday afternoon, on a busy corner of the capital city of the province on the other side of the nation, were two clear signs of just how bad the fallout from the New Brunswick PC government’s utter mishandling of a critical matter has brought national, and international, shame upon the region.
“No fracking,” spelled out one of the two banners hanging from a structure on Government Street in Victoria, B.C. “Support the Mik’maq,” stated the other.
The conflict in Rexton is not even remotely as simple as a group of First Nations protesting for the sake of protesting (“uppity Indians wanting more money,” as I overheard one man say to another in the bowels of Pierre Elliot Trudeau airport Thursday afternoon), as the nation’s mainstream media – regardless of political leaning – was so eager to portray last week.
This isn’t about fracking. It never really was.
Earlier this spring, St. Stephen’s University hosted a forum to discuss the cause and meaning of the “Idle No More,” movement. It wasn’t well-attended, but that’s hardly a surprise: few Canadians seem interested in informing themselves on First Nations matters – and that includes politicians. Premier David Alward doesn’t get it. Opposition leader Brian Gallant’s insultingly, mealy-mouthed statement issued Oct. 17 also shows he doesn’t understand the issue.
Had either of those two gentlemen, or, for that matter, some of the reporters who covered the violence that took place at the poorly labeled “anti-fracking” demonstrations participated in any similar event, as they ought to have done before weighing in authoritatively on First Nations matters, they would have realized that many First Nations of this province have long waited for the Crown to fulfill a need to discuss First Nations rights and, further, that there exist government documents, empowered by the Crown, acknowledging the legitimacy of the First Nations peoples – and their rights – in this region, documents conveniently ignored, too often.
Even six, eight months ago – if not earlier – the rumblings amidst the First Nations had pointed to a conflict, because First Nations, when they talk about consultation, they are, for the most part, not talking the same kind of “consultation” referred to by Alward or his government. Exacerbating matters, the fracking “consultation” with such groups as the Elsipogtog has been as much of a farce as the “consultation” with rural residents regarding regional commissions: despite a clear “no,” the government proceeded apace, heeding instead the juicy promises of industry lobbyists rather than the ever-growing data supporting claims of long-term environmental damage from fracking.
No, what First Nations want are actual substantive discussions on First Nations rights, something no government seems eager to do. And now, politicians are talking about having a dialogue on the fracking matter with the Elsipogtog peoples, not realizing that fracking isn’t the problem, but rather, the latest manifestation of a greater problem yet discussed.
Last Thursday’s violence was ugly, and stained the province. I sense it has been overly portrayed as the aforementioned “uppity Indians” protesting job-creating progress, but when cast as the last-ditch defence of a group whose land and home have been invaded, without permission, only to have guns and rifles brought to bear to enforce the rights of the invaders, contrary to any due process laid out under multiple laws and previous documents ... the violence takes on another tone, entirely.
Given what information exists from mainstream media, Twitter, and the clearly biased pro-protest pseudo-journalists blogging about the conflicts, I do not yet see anyone with the political acuity and fortitude to solve the matter.
The violence of last week, and the conflict yet to take place was, and still is preventable. But neither Alward, clearly, nor his would-be successors, have made any declaration that they understand the true underpinnings of the last week’s conflict in Rexton, nor has there been any hint of a desire to solve the underlying problem.
Which means the real problem will, as it always has been, be ignored.
That means SWN, the company gift-wrapped the rights to begin preliminary tests by the province, will prevail. The company will do as it will, with the government and police enforcing one law, while ignoring the legal claims of the First Nations involved.
No good can come of the path that the province has committed us to.
Faulkner is the editor of the Courier/Courier Weekend.