The road to Rexton is a coastal route connecting the War-in-the-Woods and Burnt Church trouble spots; notable for being two native protests that kick-started the rise of native empowerment nation-wide. Along this corridor natives first fought over hardwood lumber allocations and then over lobster trap quotas. Both disputes ended up with arbitrary and minimal quotas that supplemented seasonal work.
That was 15 years ago and throughout the intervening years natives launched one legal challenge after another, winning a remarkable cluster of important rulings, all denoting native access to resources based on historic treaties and aboriginal rights. These legal wins had to do with protecting their traditional subsistence food and shelter sources by giving them direct access; and reining-in powerful corporate commercial forces to do so.
Two of those legal wins stopped the Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline from turning on its Sable Gas flow to New England. That project actually bought itself a protest by asking natives to 'waive their aboriginal title' to lands that the pipeline was crossing. Even back in 1998, that was tantamount to waving a red flag at a bull. The pipeline became operational, but not before natives asserted 'de facto' power over its commissioning.
Thus the energy hubbub in New Brunswick is ongoing and has a definite history consisting of: a) resource protests, b) project blockages and c) legal precedents before the Supreme Court of Canada. So the Rexton protest has to be viewed as being on this continuum. More over, natives and eco-activists know that today -- without gaining 'social license' -- all resource projects are in peril.
Here's a list of such concerns arising from how events in Rexton played-out:
1. CBC photos of 'RCMP snipers' in prone position, scoped-in, taking a bead, are eerily akin to policing missteps at Ipperwash.
2. Torched police cars -- hardly the 'welcome mat' for the Energy East Pipeline.
3. Arresting the local chief of the biggest reserve in NB likely empowers him.
4. Out west, disgruntled chiefs and pipeline adversaries will be taking notes for promoting their anti-energy strategies along those opposed right-of-ways.
So this latest energy hubbub is not about corporate power and exploitation rights. Rather it's about the rise of native empowerment and the deal that Canada has yet to strike with natives that recognizes that they are power-brokers in shaping project outcomes. Rexton is but a symptom that all is not well, right across the country, in terms of business-as-usual approaches for resource access. There's more to come!
By Bill Gallagher, author of Resource Rulers: Fortune and Folly on Canada's Road to Resources