Canadian Oil Companies Trample on Our Rights

Someone needs to explain to me why wanting clean drinking water makes you an activist, and why proposing to destroy water with chemical warfare doesn’t make a corporation a terrorist.

I’m in South Dakota today, sort of a ground zero for the XL Keystone Pipeline, that pipeline, owned by a Canadian corporation that will export tar sands oil to the rest of the world. This is the heart of the North American continent here.

Bwaan Akiing is what we call this land: Land of the Lakota. There are no pipelines across it, and beneath it is the Oglalla Aquifer, wherein lies the vast majority of the water for this region.

The Lakota understand that water is life, and that there is no new water. It turns out that tar-sands-carrying pipelines (otherwise called “dilbit”) are sixteen times more likely to break than a conventional pipeline, and it seems that some ranchers and Native people, in a new Cowboy and Indian Alliance, are intent upon protecting that water.

This community understands the price of protecting land. And people here have no illusion about the use of military force upon a civilian community, as they carry an acute memory of the over 133,000 rounds of ammunition fired by the National Guard upon Lakota people forty years ago in the Wounded Knee standoff.

That experience is coming home again, this time in Mi’gmaq territory. This past week in New Brunswick, the Canadian military came out to protect oil companies—in this case, seismic testing for potential natural gas reserves by the Southwestern Energy Company (SWN), a Texas based company working in the province. It’s an image of extreme energy, and perhaps the times.

Levi says that the Southwestern Energy Company broke the law when they first started fracking “in our traditional hunting grounds, medicine grounds, contaminating our waters.” according to reporter Jane Mundy in the on-line Lawyers and Settlements publication. This may be just the beginning.

On June 9, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police came out en masse, seemingly to protect the company’s seismic exploration crews against peaceful protesters – both native and non-Native, who were blocking route 126 from seismic thumper trucks.

Armed with guns, paddy wagons and twist-tie restraints, the Mounties arrested peaceful protesters. Four days later the protesting continued, and this time drew the attention of local military personnel. As one Mi’gmag said, “Just who is calling the shots in New Brunswick when the value of the land and water take a backseat to the risks associated with shale gas development?”

The militarization of the energy fields is not new. It’s just more apparent when it’s in a First World country, albeit New Brunswick.

New Brunswick is sort of the El Salvador of Canadian provinces, and it is run like an oligarchy. New Brunswick’s Irving family empire stretches from oil and gas to media. It is the largest employer in New Brunswick and the primary proponent of the Trans Canada West to East pipeline which will bring tar sands oil to the St. John refinery, which is owned by the same family. Irving is the fourth-wealthiest family in Canada, and the largest employer and landholder in the relatively poor province. The St. John refinery would be a beneficiary of any natural gas fracked in the province. In general, press coverage of Aboriginal issues is sparse there at best.

Fracking proposals have come to their territory with a vengeance, and the perfect political storm has emerged--immense material poverty (seven of the ten poorest postal codes in Canada), a set of starve-or-sell federal agreements pushed by the Harper administration on First Nations, and extreme energy drives.

Each fracking well will take up to two-million gallons of pristine water and transform the water into a toxic soup, full of carcinogens. The subsistence economy has been central to the Wabanaki confederacy since time immemorial, and concerns over the Southwestern Energy Company’s water contamination have come to the province. A recent Arkansas lawsuit against the Southwestern Energy Company charges the company with widespread toxic contamination of drinking water from its hydro-fracking.

Twelve people, both native and non, were arrested in New Brunswick on June 14. Some were detained and interrogated by investigators by the Mounties, and after a day of the federal military “making their presence” felt, the people of the region have concerns about how far Canada will go to protect fossil fuels.

Here in Bwaan Akiing, I am hoping that people who want to protect the water are treated with respect, and that no one in North America becomes a victim of Canadian oil interests.

Winona LaDuke is the Executive Director of Honor the Earth in White Earth Reservation, MN. Visit their website at www.honorearth.org.