Confronting Irving and TransCanada in the Land of the Rising Sun

Photo by Shannon Patrick

For many years I have been organizing in support of First Nations communities working to stop the expansion of the Canadian tar sands and the associated infrastructure. This fight has seen the emergence of a powerful movement of First Nations and their allies. A new battle front is the 12 billion dollar, 4500 km+, 1.1 million barrel per day Energy East pipeline proposed by energy transport giant TransCanada. This is another foolish project by the archaic dirty energy sector – a project that would threaten thousands of First Nations’ and municipalities’ access to water with tar sands pipeline spills and catastrophic climate change. This pipeline would pave the way for one of the earth’s biggest carbon bombs: the Alberta tar sands. The Energy East pipeline’s carbon footprint would be equivalent to putting 7 million new cars on the road.

Just like Northern Gateway, TransMountain, or the Keystone XL, Energy East would be a climate disaster. Just like those pipelines, Energy East has provided a direct path for Indigenous rights and climate justice organizers to unite communities in struggle against the ambitions of the Harper Government and tar sands sector.

One area of concern is the community of Redhead, the traditional territory of the Wolastuq Nation (also known as New Brunswick) where the Energy East project would end at the shore of the Bay of Fundy. On May 30, 2015, the local Redhead/Anthony’s Cove Preservation Association in partnership with the Peace and Friendship Alliance of the Wolastuq Nation’s Grand Council organized a march to let the world know that they are not going to stand by and let TransCanada and local oil giant Irving threaten their way of life.

Allied 350.org Energy East campaigner Aurore Fauret and I arrived in the community of Redhead, Woolostoc territory. We were glad to be in the land of the rising sun, and we attended an organizing meeting at a local house to finalize plans for the march to the #Endoftheline. We talked and shared a meal together as the sun traveled west toward the tar sands and the pipeline battles of South Dakota and British Columbia. The hospitality of the community of Redhead is legendary. Our host, community organizer Lynaya Astephen, opened her house to us and other activists from another recent precedent-setting victory in Cacouna, Quebec. Cacouna was in the news recently due to an export terminal being rejected on account of the threat it posed to the endangered Beluga whale.

Photo by Clayton Thomas-Muller

In the morning, over 750 people joined the March to the End of the Line. We were there to support the local protest of TransCanada’s and Irving’s plans to turn Redhead into a massive tanker farm and export terminal. Irving also wants to upgrade their refineries, including a billion dollar upgrade of a ‘coker’ along with a massive port expansion, to transition this area into a free trade super corridor to facilitate and accommodate bilateral free trade agreements like the Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (CETA) with the EU, ratified earlier this year by the Harper government. Activists in the region, including the Peace and Friendship Alliance, had been organizing for months to prepare for this day and all the hard work paid off in a big way.

Wolastuq and Mi’kmaq leadership led the opening ceremony. An Elsipogtog War canoe captained by Elsipogtog War Chief John Levi glided into shore off the Bay of Fundy. They met hundreds of marchers, with both groups arriving at the literal end of the line of the Energy East. The canoes were met by pipe carriers, drummers and singers who sang a traditional trading song of the Wolastuq nations. After a pipe ceremony and sharing of the Wolastuq creation story, rally attendees were treated to a dynamic list of presenters from local organizers, labour, First Nations, and other pipeline fighters from across the continent, including two First Nations leaders from the Yinka Dene Alliance. Jasmine Thomas and Geraldine Flurer-Thomas came across the country to stand in solidarity with the Peace and Friendship Alliance to share their experiences in fighting (and winning) against another tar sands pipeline, Northern Gateway, in their territory in northern BC.

The official police count for the march was 750 people, an incredible validation of the Redhead/Anthony’s Cove Preservation Society’s months of organizing and planning. After hearing from the dynamic speakers, all 750 people joined hands along the shoreline to symbolically draw a line in the sand of the Bay of Fundy to say ‘no’ to TransCanada’s Energy East carbon bomb and Irving’s super-port and tanker farm. Into the afternoon, community members mingled with visitors and enjoyed a BBQ by the Bay of Fundy. That evening, the community celebrated the day’s events with a bonfire and fireworks show.

Moving forward from the success of the day, organizers are focused on July 4th actions in St. John and Fredericton in partnership with the 350.org National Day of Action for Jobs, Justice, and Climate. Attendees of the massive July 5th climate march in Toronto will be strengthened and inspired by the words, wisdom and commitment of First Nations representatives of grassroots Wolastuq and Mi’kmaq Nations.

Clayton Thomas-Muller is Co-Director of the Indigenous Tar Sands Campaign of the Polaris Institute and an organizer with Defenders of the Land and 350.org.

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