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Mi'kmaq We Got Your Back

First published October 19, 2013 for Pass It To The Left

By now, hopefully most of you have heard something about the RCMP attacks on a peaceful protest near Rexton, New Brunswick, home of the Elsipogtog Mi’kmaq. On the morning of Thursday, October 17th RCMP opened fire (rubber bullets and pepper spray) on demonstrators opposing the shale gas company’s (SWN) exploration and development for fracking in the area (an excellent overview of fracking found here). Equipped with snipers and dressed in military garb, the RCMP attacked the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society, women, elders and children who have been blockading the site since late September.

To understand what kind of violence erupted on site, a simple timeline of Thursday’s events (ignored by mainstream news media) is as follows: @Stimulator (who was live tweeting) noted that police opened fire with rubber bullets and pepper-sprayed Mi’kmaq protestors before ANY vehicles were damaged. Demonstrators were pushed back, then retaliated with molotovs, ensuing the destruction of vehicles, at which point the RCMP called in reinforcements. Women and elders were shot at and sprayed, and while violence occurred and threats were uttered on both sides, only members of one party were arrested for (according to the CBC): mischief, breach of an undertaking to keep the peace (yes, really), unlawful confinement, and obstruction.

As noted by SFU professor of First Nation Studies and Archaeology Dr. Rudy Reimer/Yumks, and also by Mi’kmaq lawyer Pam Palmater (link below), the purpose of the RCMP is to maintain the peace during conflict, and they are not to take sides. The law enforcement arm of our society has clearly violated the trust of the people and (as a major defining characteristic of dictatorships) has only government interests in mind. As our neoliberal government seeks to extract “all resources at any cost” (See recent Speech from the Throne), it is the indigenous people of Canada who are now on the front lines of this environmental war and as such, mainstream Canada ought not to ignore these horrifying, racist and colonial events.

Yesterday in Vancouver (Friday, October 19, 2013) around 1,000 strong rallied to show solidarity with the Mi’kmaq people and Idle No More’s continuous struggle to reaffirm indigenous rights in Canada.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of people that came together on a whim was nothing short of empowering. On more than one occasion I caught myself thinking of the great warrior Tecumseh. For those of you who do not know the name, he was a part Shawnee part Cree man who fought in the War of 1812 and was an advocate for pan-Indianism. This is a philosophy that promotes the movement of unity among different Indian groups of the Americas. It is said that while in battle on October 5, 1813 in Moraviantown Tecumseh became severely wounded and fought to his death. However, according to the text ‘A Concise History of Canada’s First Nations’ by Olivia Patricia Dickason and William Newbigging, an Ojibway account claims that the leader was wounded but did not die because he carried medicine.

After witnessing the event on Vancouver’s streets I would agree with this claim because the spirit and intent, some of the strongest medicine, of Tecumseh’s dream played out before my very eyes. Two hundred years later, due to social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram Native people and Non-Native peoples alike banded together from coast to coast in support of the Mi’kmaq. Walking the streets of downtown as a single unit, it was surreal to hear the songs and yells reverberate off the concrete jungle to meet the ears of the ignorant passersby. Some of these people looked on in amusement, others in contempt and annoyance, and still others dropped what they were doing to take up the cause and join the crowd. Tecumseh would have been proud!

The next day as I awoke, my body was stiff and sore; my legs and back from walking and standing for more than three hours and my arms and shoulders from holding a sign above my head for the same amount of time. However, I found myself oddly at peace with the discomfort. It was proof that what I had witnessed and took part in was very real and something I would remember and carry with me till the end of my days. I also caught myself thinking of the people of Elsipogtog and the abuses that they encountered and how sore their bodies and hearts must have been the next day. My pain is nothing is compared to theirs. All of this made me realize that everyone involved in the protests and rallies suffer ourselves today so that our children and grandchildren won’t have to in the future. That is something worth fighting for.

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