View from the Longhouse: hundreds unite in peace and friendship against shale gas

Written by Najat Abdou-McFarland on December 5, 2013

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Protesters at the November 5 anti-shale gas rally express their solidarity with the Indigenous land defenders who were arrested in Rexton on October 17. Photo by Liane Thibodeau.

Fredericton – The Unity and Solidarity Rally Against Shale Gas at the opening of the Legislature on November 5 brought people from many corners of the province together in peace and friendship. Two weeks before, on October 17, the RCMP had violently raided the blockade of SWN Resources’ seismic exploratory trucks in Rexton, east of Moncton, arresting forty people, many of them Indigenous Mi’kmaq land defenders.

Hundreds of anti-shale gas activists from Elsipogtog, Tobique, Saint John, Moncton and Sackville were present at the rally as well as representatives from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the Fredericton District Labour Council, the Council of Canadians and other organizations.

Those who attended the rally wanted to make sure that Premier David Alward heard what they had to say as he arrived at the Legislature. Mark D’Arcy, a familiar face in the anti-shale gas movement in Fredericton, welcomed the rally-goers and asked them to turn their backs to the Legislature and towards a tradition that models true democracy: the Longhouse.

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Hundreds of people turn their backs on the New Brunswick Legislature during a protest against shale gas development on November 5. Photo by Liane Thibodeau.

Longhouses are traditional structures of indigenous visioning where decisions affecting the Wabanaki people and territory are discussed. For 11 days, from October 26 to November 5, the Longhouse that was erected near the Legislature along the banks of the Wolastoq River (also known as the Saint John River) sheltered a sacred fire that burned day and night under the watchful eye of Firekeepers.

Following the rally, participants took to the streets of downtown Fredericton, chanting slogans such as “No Shale Gas on Stolen Native Land”. Many people held feathers — symbols of peace and friendship – as they marched.

The march ended at the Wolastoq Longhouse, where Indigenous leaders spoke out against shale gas and shared their concerns for Mother Earth. Among the speakers was grandmother Willi Nolan, against whom (along with nine others) SWN Resources has filed a lawsuit in relation to the Rexton blockade. Nolan demonstrated her resolve and vision for the future: “SWN: your measures to instil fear in the Warriors, Sikniktuk (Elsipogtog) women and children, and allies will fail.”

Nolan outlined a vision for sustenance of the people of Sikniktuk, where the people subsist off the bounty of their traditional territory, harvesting trees and fishing in the rivers, lakes and streams: “The forests and the water will be cared for by the people, allowed to regenerate and produce true riches for the people who live here; clean air and water, respectfully harvested trees, careful fishing and no more poisons or senseless waste of what Creator gave us so that we can have good lives and care for the earth with love and respect for generations to come.”

St. Mary’s Chief, Candice Paul, expressed dismay at the Premier for not agreeing to meet with her and the Maliseet Grand Council, asserting that governments cannot proceed with natural resource extraction in any territory without getting the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples.

Najat Abdou-McFarland is an environmental activist living in Fredericton.

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