With the images of burning cop cars, the Mi'kmaq blockade in New Brunswick has been associated with violence, but the protest against fracking is an act of hope and peace, and has a long pedigree in the history of Canada's colonialism.
In an era when climate change sparks violent conflict as a result of food and resource scarcities, and with many of the world's militaries – especially the Pentagon – planning for war (as explained by Christian Paradis in The Tropic of Climate Chaos), efforts to curb the further development of fossil fuels by fracking, such as the Elsipogtog blockade, are profound acts for peace and environmental protection.
The Climate Commission's report states that 80% of fossil fuels need to be left in the ground if catastrophic climate change is to be averted – and that includes unconventional fuel like shale gas.
Some will question the peaceful nature of the Mi'kmaq protest because of the damaged police cars, but this reaction came only after 200 heavily armed RCMP showed up with dogs, arresting and intimidating protestors, firing tear gas and shooting rubber bullets. One protester may lose a leg as a result. It was heartbreaking to see the video of snipers pointing their weapons at women and hear children pleading, "Don't point your gun at my Mom."
Why is this protest so important? Because it sets a precedent. It gives us a clue about how Prime Minister Harper will respond to non-violent direct action against resource extraction. The Harper government, which is responsible for the RCMP, is sending us a message. They are trying to intimidate us, to warn us that, if we take peaceful non-violent direct action to stop fossil fuel extraction, we will be subjected to the same kind of brutal RCMP assault that was unleashed on the Mi'kmaq demonstrators in New Brinswick.
What gives me hope for a green and peaceful future for generations to come is that so many Canadian have supported and stood behind the N.B. blockaders, with over 45 solidarity events spreading rapidly across Canada, and more in the U.S. and internationally. This widespread "people power" soon led to the anti-blockade injunction being lifted.
Non-violent direct actions like those by the Mi'kmaq are one of our best tactics for curbing climate change and creating a clean energy future in Canada and everywhere else.
This is a chapter in the struggle for the soul of Canada. There was a moment where I feared that people would just sit back and let the Harper government continue to turn Canada into a petro-state. But thousands of people united from many groups and regions – Mi'kmaq, Acadian, Anglophone – to become trailblazers in the struggle for a clean energy future.
Most Canadians in the past have tended to be afraid of confrontation. We are known for our politeness – even to say "sorry" when someone steps on our feet! But non-violent confrontation works and is essential if we want to win our struggle for a cleaner and safer world. It has worked to defend lands and waters, like the indigenous peoples defending their land from the intrusion of a golf course during the OKA dispute in Quebec, and the Haida peacefully defending their territory from logging in B.C.
Many young people were shocked by what they saw and heard on TV a few months ago, and their twitter feed was full of their angry comments. What? Snipers in Canada? Shooting at peaceful protesters? We feel betrayed by the country we were taught to be proud to call home.
But such barbarous RCMP attacks – and resistance to them – are not new in Canada. They are part of a long history of colonialism, and the struggle against it, despite Prime Minister Harper's claim that "Canada has no history of colonialism."
I used to believe I lived in a nation that respected and supported its Aboriginal peoples. But this recent basic course in Indigenous Relations, and previously the Idle No More movement, have taught me that Canada has a dark history of colonialism.
But, given the amazing solidarity displayed after the police assault on the Mi'kmaq blockade, I now have reason the believe that Canadians really are a tolerant people – that we embrace a multi-cultural society, that we believe in the creation and maintenance of healthy, mutually supportive communities.
Unlike the Harper government, this movement is awake to the crisis we face, to the crisis of undermining the rights of Indigenous peoples, to the crisis of climate change. Standing with the Indigenous nations opposed to fracking means boldly rising to both of these challenges.
Defending the land and water for all of us, and striving for a peaceful future – such is the proud legacy of the Elsipogtog First Nation.
(Brigette DePape is a former Senate page, activist, and writer currently based in Vancouver.)