For many years I have been organizing in support of First Nations communities working to stop the expansion of the Canadian tar sands and associated infrastructure. This fight has seen the emergence of a powerful movement of First Nations and their allies.
A new battlefront has emerged with the $12 billion, 4,500+ km, 1.1 million barrel per day Energy East pipeline proposed by energy transport giant TransCanada. Yet another foolish project by the archaic dirty-energy sector, it would threaten thousands of First Nations’ and municipalities’ access to water through pipeline spills and catastrophic climate change. And it would pave the way for one of the earth’s biggest carbon bombs: the Alberta tar sands. The pipeline’s carbon footprint would be equivalent to putting 7 million new cars on the road.
Just like Northern Gateway, Trans Mountain, or 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 the tar sands sector.
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One area of concern is the community of Red Head in Saint John, N.B., located on the traditional territory of the Wolastoq Nation, where the Energy East pipeline would end at the shore of the Bay of Fundy. In partnership with the Peace and Friendship Alliance, a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous allies formed to oppose the pipeline, the local Red Head - Anthony’s Cove Preservation Association organized a march for May 30 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.
I arrived in the community of Red Head, Wolastoq territory, with allied 350.org Energy East campaigner Aurore Fauret. We were glad to be in the land of the rising sun, and attended an organizing meeting at a local house to finalize plans for the March to the End of the Line. We talked and shared a meal as the sun travelled west toward the tar sands and the pipeline battles of South Dakota and British Columbia.
The hospitality of the community of Red Head 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 the rejection of an oil-export terminal on account of the threat it posed to the endangered beluga whale.
In the morning, over 750 people joined the demonstration. We were there to support the local protest of TransCanada’s and Irving Oil’s plans to turn Red Head into a massive tanker farm and export terminal. Irving also wants to enhance its refineries, including a billion-dollar upgrade of a coker. The company seeks to transition the area into a free-trade super corridor to facilitate and accommodate bilateral free trade agreements such as the Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the European Union, ratified earlier this year by the Harper government.
Activists in the region, including the Peace and Friendship Alliance, had organized for months to prepare for the day of the march, and all the hard work paid off in a big way. Wolastoq and Mi’kmaq leadership led the opening ceremony. A war canoe captained by Elsipogtog war chief John Levi glided into shore off the Bay of Fundy. Hundreds of marchers met the group, arriving at the literal end of the line of Energy East.
The canoes were met by pipe carriers, drummers, and singers who sang a traditional trading song of the Wolastoq. After a pipe ceremony and sharing of the Wolastoq creation story, rally attendees were treated to a dynamic list of presenters, including local organizers, labour leaders, First Nations, and other pipeline fighters from across the continent. Two First Nations leaders from the Yinka Dene Alliance, Jasmine Thomas and Geraldine Flurer-Thomas, came to stand in solidarity with the Peace and Friendship Alliance and to share their experiences in fighting and winning against another tar sands pipeline, Northern Gateway, in their territory in northern B.C.
The official police count for the march was 750 people, an incredible validation of the Red Head - Anthony’s Cove Preservation Society’s months of organizing and planning. After hearing from the dynamic speakers, everyone joined hands along the shoreline to symbolically draw a line in the sand of the Bay of Fundy and 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 barbecue 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 Saint 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 grassroots First Nations representatives of the Wolastoq and Mi’kmaq Nations.
VIDEO: March to the #EndoftheLine Woolostoq organizer and community leader Ron Tremblay speaks about Saturday's ceremony and demonstration.