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"After 500 years, I am what the system has created. And I'm trying to break that cycle within my son."

On Thanksgiving, a Mi'kmaq Warrior at the anti-shale gas encampment in New Brunswick explains devotion to the Warrior path

by Miles Howe

“I have a family that I never knew I had. This Warrior Society has taught me that we can be brothers amongst each other.”
“I have a family that I never knew I had. This Warrior Society has taught me that we can be brothers amongst each other.”

Rexton, New Brunswick – You can find Coady, 27, from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, at the anti-shale gas encampment that continues along highway 134 in Rexton, New Brunswick.

Like his counterparts in the Mi'kmaq Warriors Society, Coady's day is broken up into scheduled shifts.

While the rest of the anti-shale gas activists at the site are tucked into their tents, Coady and the Warriors are up doing night patrol, walking the highway, scanning the treeline with a flashlight in hand. Either that or they're helping to direct traffic, ensuring that kids stay off the recently opened lane of highway that borders the encampment.

It's a serious commitment, one for which there is no pay or clear physical reward.

On the other hand, it is a path. And like many paths in life, the commitment to it is not necessarily based on financial gain.

“I decided to become a Warrior after what happened in Burnt Church,” says Coady. “As I got older, my perspective of what it was to be a Warrior was different from when I first started. So as I became wiser, my heart became more true for the fight.

“When I was a child we would receive the Warrior Society in my home. My mom would bring them in and feed them supper, while they were fighting. My mother was always the one to make them sandwiches. That's how I first came to know the Warriors. And as I began to see who they really were, that's when I knew I wanted to become a Warrior.”

Motivations for joining the Society must surely be of a very personal nature.

Maligned by some, even within their own communities, and often misrepresented from a mainstream, non-Indigenous perspective, the imposing image of the battle-ready, camouflaged, fighter risks injecting fear into the general consciousness.

Especially to an ever-urbanized society no longer used to a fight.

Especially when the image of the camouflaged fighter – dark skinned no less - is removed from the context of the fight itself.

To Coady, the motivation to join the Warriors, and indeed be prepared for a fight, is his son.

“To me being a Warrior is to make sure that my son doesn't live the same life of oppression and the same life of poverty,” says Coady. “That he doesn't have to grow up like I did. And to be a Warrior means to fight to make sure my son doesn't grow up like that...It's not about me anymore. It is now about my son.”

To see the fight, therefor, as an assertion of a desire for a better future for one's children – and the children of others – is to see the fighter as a member of a greater community. He or she does not stand alone as a miscreant, or a punk. His or her experiences are the experiences of the community.

For Coady, the Mi'kmaq experience has been one that has strongly featured institutional oppression.

“I grew up in Eskazoni First Nation,” says Coady. “I first experienced institutions when I was six years old, and that would be a transition house. I am 27 years old today and the last institution I've seen was last year. So the institution was within me since I was six years old. For twenty one years. I've been to transition houses. I've been to jails. I've been to rehabs. I've been to detoxes. I've been to the nut house. And it's all the same. And that is not the life I want for my son.”

Social indicators and often untold histories, whether viewed from afar by the non-participant, or felt first-hand by young men like Coady, show that institutionalization features front and centre in the modern Indigenous experience.

“It was a unique experience for the whole reservation,” says Coady. “And when I say the phrase reservation, when I refer to a reservation, it is an infamous reservation. And a lot of the problems we faced in the residential schools, we face today on the reserve. In my mind the reserve is like a big residential school.

“Today I'm a descendant of the alcoholic era. My parents were alcoholics. I don't want to see the descendants of the drugs of the 2000s era, or the new addictions they have. This goes back as far as 500 years ago. You can assimilate a people. You can beat a people. You can humiliate a people for so long. And after 500 years, I am what the system has created. And I'm trying to break that cycle within my son. That's why it means so much to me.”

The Warrior path, as a means towards breaking a cycle of institutional, colonial, oppression, has here in Rexton, New Brunswick, found an expanding circle of allies.

Non-Indigenous residents of the Maritime provinces have also experienced their own oppression. By no means is the context at all similar. Nor is the point of speaking of it to encourage comparison. Yet the bonds of real friendship that have been forged between Acadians, the rural Anglophone – poor and otherwise – and the Indigenous populations at the encampment are impossible to ignore.

The common understanding of a threat to water – perhaps made more palpable and clear through a largely-rural experience in Kent County, New Brunswick, has forged new community where there was none.

“I have a family that I never knew I had. This Warrior Society has taught me that we can be brothers amongst each other,” says Coady. “People that I've met - that I never met until I came to Big Cove - I consider now my brothers. And I look up to them. This Warriors Society has made my heart pure again. Before I came to fight against this oil company, and who I am today? It's far different.”

Of course, there is always a sacrifice needed for singular devotion to a path. Families and jobs are put on the line. Partners and bosses will either understand the perceived urgency amongst the devoted – or not. The world, for all intents and purposes, becomes as small as an encampment along a rural highway on a sunny, fall, day.

“I put so much on the line through coming here,” says Coady. 'I threw every chance I had away with my girlfriend. I worked so hard to get two jobs. And I got them. I finally got them. After all this education I finally got there. And I put it aside to fight here.

"And I think about it. That might seem like it's a big sacrifice for me. But when I think about it, 500 hundred years ago when a warrior went to battle, and if he lost? His family would get scalped. They'd slaughter his woman and children. So my sacrifice today is much smaller than what it was back in the day. So that's what gets me by. But my life back home doesn't exist anymore...And that's what people need to know. All these Warriors here, we cannot just go home. We're too far to just go home.

"We're fathers. We're sons. We're uncles. We're aunts. We're mothers. All fighting for the water."

You can follow Miles Howe, at the anti-shale gas encampment on highway 134 in New Brunswick, and elsewhere, on twitter: @mileshowe

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