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“People were willing to die in defense of water”

New book explores Elsipogtog's fracking resistance

by Robert Devet

“People were willing to die in defense of water,” Miles Howe tells the Halifax Media Co-op, referring to events that transpired in New Brunswick in 2013. In his new book, Debriefing Elsipogtog, he explores the many facets of a struggle that ultimately sent both a  provincial government and a huge US energy company packing.
“People were willing to die in defense of water,” Miles Howe tells the Halifax Media Co-op, referring to events that transpired in New Brunswick in 2013. In his new book, Debriefing Elsipogtog, he explores the many facets of a struggle that ultimately sent both a provincial government and a huge US energy company packing.

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) - Most Halifax Media Co-op readers will remember the 2013 reports filed by Miles Howe on an almost daily basis from the Kent County resistance to hydraulic fracking.

Embedded in Elsipogtog First Nation, and there for the long haul, his stories provided insight into the daily struggles of a community asserting its right to clean water.

Blockades, encampments, behind the scenes political shifts, Howe was always there, camera in hand, and a laptop to file his report nearby.

Now he wrote a book about it.

Debriefing Elsipogtog, the anatomy of a struggle, re-tells that story of the 2013 resistance, but with the benefit of distance and hindsight.

We met with Howe to explore just a few of the issues that his book touches upon.

First we asked Howe about his approach to journalism, and by extension, to writing this book.

“I think that there is a certain responsibility with being a reporter embedded within a community. There is also a certain amount of trust that needs to be built up," says Howe.

“I had done a variety of earlier reporting, familiarizing myself with grassroots resistance and what the issues were, and presenting that in a light that was not necessarily favourable, but truthful to the people who were resisting,” he says.

In the book we relive the infamous day in October 2013 that cops stormed the blockade along Highway 134 with assault rifles and barking dogs, the vicious attack quickly degenerating into scenes of utter chaos, police cars in flames, and forty arrests.

One of the people arrested that day was Howe himself.

“I got arrested because I wouldn't leave a volatile situation,” Howe explains. “I thought it was a journalistic duty (to stay),” he says.

“We learned in court that somebody very nearly got shot. To me (not staying) would have been a disservice to the brave men and women who were standing there. An arrest at that time really was water off a duck's back, it really didn't matter.”

To be sure, although Howe was always close to the action, the book very definitely is not about him. 

It must also be noted that the book is more than a blow by blow of the various battles that occurred in Rexton, Kent County, in 2013.

Chapter by chapter, almost like a prosecutor presenting his case in court, Howe introduces the pieces of the puzzle that, once put together, shape current New Brunswick society and the story of resistance that played out there.

The consistent betrayal of First Nations and treaties ever since settlers first set foot here, SWN's way of doing business in the States, Irving's hold on the New Brunswick political machine, the planned weakening of environmental legislation to pave the way for fracking; it's all there.

The first thing to understand is that white settlers are an occupying force, Howe says.

“I don't think we need to feel guilty about it, but there is an alternate history here of occupation. I don't think it is a coincidence that this history is kept under wraps, because it leads to some very uncomfortable truths,” he says. “It's a matter of facing these truths. It happened 400 years ago, but it is still true.”

This point is sometimes missed even by people within New Brunswick anti-fracking movement, Howe suggests.

“Yes, water is key, we all need it to survive. Yes, we must all come together to push back hydraulic fracking,” Howe says. “But for many (indigenous resisters) there was a lot more going on, and that was the assertion of treaty rights.”

Further complicating the issues is that what little that remained of a duty to consult is co-opted by the Assembly of First Nations' Chiefs in New Brunswick Inc. (AFNCNB).

The book exposes fake consultations with unsuspecting elders, trips to Arkansas, gifts and other unsavoury methods of pulling community members into the fracking camp.

When all is said and done the extraordinarily determined Kent County resistance played a huge part in the fracking moratoriums now in place in New Brunswick (it took an election) and even in Nova Scotia, Howe believes.

“That resistance, at that moment the people were willing to die, and would have died, without having qualms about it, in the defense of water,” Howe says.

But the book doesn't end on an entirely positive note.

Halifax roads are being dug up to install natural gas lines as we speak. Nova Scotia is approving liquified natural gas plants so we can export the stuff.

“If everybody acted with the courage of the people of Elsipogtog, of the members of the Warriors Society, of the settler of Kent County, of all the people in New Brunswick who stood up, we would have a very different society,” Howe tells the Halifax Media Co-op.

“This book is the story of a reaction. The story of our action has yet to be told, of how we shape our society, our energy consumption.”

Debriefing Elsipogtog, the anatomy of a struggle. By Miles Howe. Fernwood Publishing, 2015 $24.95

A book tour kicks off this Thursday May 28th at the Halifax Central Library. Launch events are also planned for Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Millbrook First Nation, Noel. More to come.

Follow Robert Devet on Twitter    @DevetRobert

 

 


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