A few things are clear from the events of the past week. The first is that we are not alone. The Mi’kmaq who are standing against fracking for natural gas in Elsipogtog do so not just with the courage of their own convictions but also with support from places diverse in geography, culture and ethnicity.
Social media have made it much easier to reach across time and space. We are connecting with our Native relations from the Mohawks to the Lakota, but also the Paiute, Ojibwe, Kumeyaay and hundreds of Native people familiar and unfamiliar to us all. We may not form an ever-ready unified military force, but that is not where our strength will ever be—nor should it.
Our strengths are in each of the territories or regions that we live. For some, it is seizing the moment to take our own stand on a parallel issue that strengthens the fight for each. For others, it is simply using whatever field of play we find ourselves in to raise awareness, make a statement and build support.
As I wove the information on the raid at Elsipogtog into my previously arranged interviews in Albany, N.Y. on public radio and cable news, I was surprised at the interest that was piqued.
And as I listened to public radio on my drive back across the state from Albany to Cattaraugus, I was moved by an interview with a local non-Native elected official in New Brunswick who said,
“God bless the First Nations.” This gentleman went on to describe how municipal leaders had voted almost unanimously for a moratorium of shale gas exploration in New Brunswick because of their concerns with hydrofracking.
He suggested that only the Native protesters were having success fighting this affront to land, water and the life of the region, because his own federal government was working against the interests of the municipal governments. These local elected officials were standing side by side with the Native protesters, quite literally in some cases. The one official I was listening to on the radio took a shot to the leg from one of the RCMP’s “non-lethal” weapons while at the site.
While we face many enemies in our fight for sovereignty, more and more non-Native activists are coming to the conclusion that as Pamela Palmater once stated on my show, Natives may be the last best hope for anyone interested in saving the planet.
Many of us hold onto some very specific iconic images from events of the past. There’s the Warrior vs. soldier faceoff from Oka, and Richard Nicolas standing with a rifle raised in his hand on a flipped over SQ van from the same conflict. But images these days come quicker than ever, and they travel the globe at lightning speed. Think of the images coming from the Elsipogtog conflict: among them are some of the most compelling images of the last few decades. My good friend Gregg Deal may have helped immortalize one of them with his latest poster created for the “Honor the Treaties” project from the photo image of a woman holding an eagle feather kneeling in front of a line of heavily armed RCMP. Gregg, a Pyramid Lake Paiute, worked feverishly to get this new creation completed and posted on social media as soon as possible.
From Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal to cities across New York State and the US, activism on various platforms of social media has taken hold. As I sit here banging on my keyboard I see a picture pop up on a Facebook post from Hollywood, California of actor Adam Sandler holding a sign that reads, “We Support Elsipogtog.”
We don’t need to win everyone over, but as more people from outside our Native communities come to realize they need us, we gain both increased support and an increased responsibility.
We are not alone, and in the words of Uncle Ben Parker, “with great power comes great responsibility.”
Our people are still looked at in racist and condescending ways, as the mainstream coverage of Elsipogtog shows. Those with solid control of the mainstream media are among them, but social media gives us a fighting chance to even the playing field. If we play it right and refuse to let anyone hijack our message or misappropriate our power and responsibility, we may yet see major shifts in policies.
The Mi’kmaq of Elsipogtog have made us all proud. And I for one feel stronger than ever when fighting for our land, water, women and children.
– John Karhiio Kane, Mohawk, a national commentator on Native American issues, hosts “Let’s Talk Native…with John Kane,” ESPN-AM 1520 in Buffalo, Sundays, 9-11 p.m. He is a frequent guest on WGRZ-TV’s (NBC/Buffalo) “2 Sides” and “The Capitol Pressroom with Susan Arbetter” in Albany. John’s “Native Pride” blog can be found at www.letstalknativepride.blogspot.com. He also has a very active “Let’s Talk Native…with John Kane” group page on Facebook.