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Interview with Cecilia Brooks, AFNCNB's Science Adviser, Indigenous Knowledge Specialist and Research Director

Once anti-shale gas exploration. Not anymore.

by Miles Howe

Canada 2013 - Potrait of a Petro-State in Distress? View from the Elsipogtog sacred fire. [Photo: M. Howe]
Canada 2013 - Potrait of a Petro-State in Distress? View from the Elsipogtog sacred fire. [Photo: M. Howe]

ELSIPOGTOG, NEW BRUNSWICK - Cecilia Brooks, member of the Sitansisk Wolastoqiyik community in Fredericton, wears a few different hats. As the Canadian Rivers Institute's 'Water Grandmother', her bio notes that she engages in relationship building with community elders, youth and leaders of surrounding First Nation communities, especially as it relates to issues surrounding water safety. 

From 2007-2010, she was also the Science Director at the Maliseet Nation Conservation Council, where a quick internet search suggests that, among other duties, she raised concerns about the potential of environmental risks of resource extraction projects.
 
Brooks is also - and perhaps most relevant for the matter at hand - the Science Adviser, the Indigenous Knowledge Specialist, as well as the Research Director, for the Assembly of First Nations Chiefs of New Brunswick. Most likely, in this capacity, Brooks would be engaged in some kind of advisory role to AFN Regional Chief Roger Augustine.
 
In December of 2011, Brooks wrote an op-ed piece for the CBC that was decidedly anti-shale gas exploration. In the op-ed, Brooks notes that it is a disregard for the treaties that bind First Nations and settlers that has contributed to a "massive degradation of the land that First Nations call mother earth." She encourages the creation of sustainable jobs over resource extraction, and calls the oil and gas industry a "boom and bust industry" that is to be avoided. 
 
While certainly not speaking on behalf of the AFN when she wrote this piece, one might surmise that Brooks (who identifies herself as the Science Advisor for the AFNCNB in the article) and Augustine might have at least had a conversation about her clearly negative views on hydraulic fracturing, even at the exploratory phase.
 
This does put into doubt Augustine's recent statement about "not knowing enough to make an intelligent statement" regarding the potential environmental dangers of SWN Resources Canada's seismic testing, a prelude for all intents and purposes to shale gas extraction.
 
In any case, whether or not Brooks ever communicated her distress over shale gas exploration to Augustine, by October of 2012 it appears that Brooks' resolve against the controversial practice - and the presence of SWN in her traditional territory - had been assuaged. It is Brooks' name that appears as the author of the 'Aboriginal Spot Audit' in SWN's most recent '2D Seismic Testing Report'.
 
Granted, Brooks' mandate in her capacity as Aboriginal Spot Auditor for SWN's 2011 seismic testing in New Brunswick did not include her giving an opinion as to the safety of seismic testing in general. Indeed, the audit itself focuses on documenting a few chainsaw oil containers and rolls of flagging tape that were found during a walk-through, and encourages SWN to do a better job of cleaning up the debris along their seismic test lines in the future. 
 
It would appear to be a picture of Brooks now employed in monitoring the very company doing the exploratory testing, a practice that only a few short months ago she was decidedly against.
 
"When it comes to my feelings about shale gas and what's been happening is that we have to be careful," Brooks told The Halifax Media Co-op. "And that's exactly what the chiefs are doing by gathering information and going through the process of consultation."
 
It would also appear to suggest at least a degree of complicity between the AFN and SWN. Brooks, as Scientific Adviser, Indigenous Knowledge Expert and Research Director of the AFNCNB, no longer seems to have an strong opinion - an opinion undoubtedly important to the AFN - on shale gas exploration. Instead, it appears as though at least part of her role as spot auditor is to simply ensure that SWN doesn't make too much of a mess while they test.
 
Please enjoy the following interview with Cecilia Brooks.
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