- Category: news
- Created: Monday, 21 October 2013 12:42
- Published: Monday, 21 October 2013 12:42
- Written by Administrator 3
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by Jessica Mullin
The debate surrounding “fracking” and shale-gas in New Brunswick may have started as a conflict over environmental values versus economic growth but this is hardly where it ended.
What I am about to write is going to be uncomfortable for many of you. Addressing issues of racism, colonialism and white-privilege is never comfortable, but even more so to a population in which only 1.4% of people identify as a visible minority.
The highway 11 protests of October 17th appeared to be a conflict over whether or not environmental concerns trump economic prosperity and vice versa. On the surface these were the issues at hand, but on a deeper level it was colonialism – the tale as old as time of white people stealing land, then exploiting it economically – that was at the heart of that day’s conflict.
Here is the uncomfortable part: whether you choose to admit it or not, we live on stolen land. Regardless of whether or not “you” personally stole it is irrelevant; the fact that you benefit from colonialism every day of your life makes you a colonizer. If you refuse to acknowledge the inherent privilege that you experience as a white colonizer you become even more complacent in this fact.
This stolen land includes areas that companies such as SWN Resources of Canada hope to use for shale-gas exploration. According to news sources, Elsipogtog First Nation Chief Aaron Sock expressed that First Nations people are reclaiming the land in question, lent to the British Crown, due to mismanagement. Though I’d like to afford readers with specifics about what this particular land claim entails, there is hardly any focus on this issue by Canadian news sources. Unsurprisingly, they have instead decided to focus their efforts on demonizing the protestor’s involved, in particular those who identified as Aboriginal. Regardless, we need to acknowledge that SWN Resources of Canada and the Canadian government are attempting to explore for shale-gas on land that was stolen. An issuing of an injunction by the thief is not likely to convince the robbed that they have not been robbed; if anything it is a deliberate reaffirmation of unfair power from the state over those they colonized.
This brings me to another point of contention: the turned-violent clash between protestor’s and the RCMP. It’s been discussed that by disobeying the injunction and by burning five RCMP vehicles that there is a clear disrespect for taxpayers money. This allegedly results from Aboriginal people not being taxpayers. First, I would like to assure you that Aboriginal people in Canada do pay taxes. There are only few exceptions to this such as Section 87 of the Indian Act which refers only to property on reservations. Other exemptions include income earned on reservation and GST and HST on sales done on or through the reservation. There are equally plenty of reasons why white folk are exempted from certain taxes in Canada based on incomes, children and day care just to name a few. Unsurprisingly, claiming that Aboriginal people do not pay taxes is yet another example of racism against Aboriginal people in Canada.
In addition, the RCMP in general has had a long, colonialist history with Aboriginal people in Canada. Though I personally do not condone or promote the violence of the October 17th protest, the RCMP has participated in their share of violence against Aboriginal persons as well. It is unfortunate that we choose to forget about this part of our history. As symbolic representatives of the state and colonialism, it is unsurprising that conflicts have and continue to escalate between the two groups (see: Oka Crisis).
Acknowledging our privilege is uncomfortable because it is a challenge of the power we hold and benefit from in society. Feeling uncomfortable, I would argue, is a small price to pay for the damage we as colonizers have done and continue to do on Aboriginal lands. I challenge people to reflect upon the ways that they experience privilege in society and take an active role in acknowledging and combatting these power structures. I challenge people in New Brunswick to look critically at the intersecting issues of race, class and colonialism present in the debate over shale-gas exploration. This is not only a debate of environment versus economics, but over thousands of years of colonization, pain and unchecked privilege. It is time to have these conversations, and I for one am glad that this debate is opening the door for these conversations to be had.
Jessica Mullin is a third year law and women’s and gender studies student at Carleton University in Ottawa, ON. She is originally from Miramichi and is primarily interested in feminist politics and legal studies.