The opposition of native Mi’kmaq people to fracking exploration in New Brunswick puts a sharp focus on the bond that links us to the Earth. Their shameful treatment at the hands of Canadian authorities puts an equally sharp focus on the need to stop rushing to exploit our world, sacrificing our humanity in the process.
The basic story has received little mainstream coverage, so I’ll summarize it before looking at the bigger clash of world views.
SWN Resources Canada, part of Houston-based Southwestern Energy (SWN), has been conducting exploratory operations in New Brunswick since 2010 aimed at extracting shale gas through fracking, or hydraulic fracturing. Mi’kmaq people in the area claim stewardship over the land and reject the project. Their blockade of an SWN camp led to a violent confrontation on Oct. 17 when heavily armed Royal Canadian Mounted Police moved in to enforce an injunction against the until-then peaceful protest. Police arrested 40 protesters, all of whom were released except for six members of the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society.
APTN, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, presented the police explanation for the action without any prejudicial comment in a commendable act of journalistic integrity: Death threats, brandished weapons, forcible confinement triggered raid: RCMP. Following the release on bail of two Warrior Society members, two weeks after the raid, the network also published their account of abuse in detention, abuse they said was continuing against the four members who were still in jail: Mi’kmaq Warrior Society members say they were beaten, roughed-up after arrests – APTN National News.
One of the two who were released was subsequently interviewed and said, among other things, that they were kept in solitary confinement 24/7 except for court appearances.
I cannot say what did or didn’t happen concerning the events reported, and some protesters seemingly resorted to violence on the day of the crackdown, but I do know who I think was threatened with harm and, in fact, harmed. Perhaps truth and justice will out before too much time passes, but something deeper is showing through here.
The last word on the Mi’kmaq protest was that they were gathering again on Nov. 4 to light a sacred fire as part of a new blockade, and that the four arrested protesters not previously bailed remained in jail as of Nov. 3. Anyone would have to wonder why these people would risk further brutalization by once again pitting feathers and symbolic fire against corporate legal might and fire arms.
The answer appears to be that they sense a threat to their connection with the Earth, with life as a whole. “We are here to save our water and land, and to protect our animals and people. There will be no fracking at all,” Louis Jerome, a Mi’kmaq sun dancer, said in a statement Monday reported by Sun News. “We are putting a sacred fire here, and it must be respected.”
The threat here is not abstract and ideological; it involves the physical rupturing of life itself, seen as a holistic system that cannot be separated into parts. Unlike mining or drilling for oil or gas, which is very invasive but, under ideal conditions, can be contained to a limited area, fracking literally breaks the earth over a vast area, and has the potential to affect water resources over an unlimited area.
Naturally, fracking proponents say there is no real danger. But with the corporate record on “less” invasive mining and drilling, pipeline and oil spills, etc., can any reasonable person expect people to trust big business and government on this one? You can cap a well or shut down a mine if there is a catastrophe. What do you do with thousands or tens of thousands of dead land if it turns out that the industry-supported experts who pronounced fracking safe were wrong? And did they even care for non-human forms of life, or accept that they could be sacrificed en masse?
When people whose connection to the land goes back hundreds or thousands of years say, “Wait! Stop!” is there any possible justification for brutally shoving them out of the way? Maybe fracking is not as terrible as many fear, with reasonable cause, but the burden of proof is heavy and on the shoulders of proponents. And the need to rush headlong into it is indefensible.
Only people who have fractured their relationship with life can think they have the right to fracture others’ relationship as well as life itself in the pursuit of economic benefits, especially in the effort to ensure that unsustainable energy consumption can continue with future generations left to pay the bill, if life as we know it can even survive on the planet. Naturally, they must think of the other people and other forms of life they will harm precisely as other. Then the logic of compassion fails to hold, and they can prioritize their own interests through whatever means they deem necessary or convenient.
This destructive tribal way of thinking is the very antithesis of the fracking protest by the Mi’kmaq, a relatively small tribal group in a relatively remote corner of the world, to uphold the unity of life.