7 July 2013
ABORIGINAL JUSTICE: Elsipogtog First Nation members begin fasting ceremonies for
forgiveness and protection to last until 9 July 2013
“We ask that you stay away from where we are performing ceremony,” said
Wisdom Keeper Noel Milliea, leaning in the window of the police SUV to speak to
the officer inside. “Firearms do not belong in sacred space. We ask that you
not patrol this far up the road again, as the fast will continue all night.”
The officer listened carefully. He agreed to respect the space, but
warned Milliea that those conducting ceremonies should stay away from a
campsite nearby, closer to where Texas-based shale gas exploration company, SWN,
is conducting seismic testing in Kent County in Atlantic Canada
“I have told the women who are here fasting to go to the campsite if the
weather changes,” said Milliea, “where they will be better protected. Will you
protect our right to perform our ceremonies there?”
The officer looked away. “If you move closer, we have to do what we have
to do,” he said
Milliea stood his ground. “We ask that you protect our right to perform
our ceremonies,” he said.
At Milliea’s request, CPT Aboriginal Justice Team members Chris Sabas
and Robin Buyers began an accompaniment of the fasting ceremonies deep in the
New Brunswick bush on Saturday, July 6th. “The women are fasting for
forgiveness for the damage caused to the Mother—the land and the water—by the
[test] explosions,” said Milliea. “The men are fasting for protection.”
Participants are committed to going without food and water for twenty-four
hours or more in spite of up to forty-degree (104-degree Fahrenheit) heat and
high humidity. “Water is life,” explained Milliea. “When a person commits to
giving up water, they give up their life.” A sip of water, which will conclude
the fast, marks the return to life.
Water is at the centre of community resistance to the presence of SWN in
Kent County. While concern has been growing about water contamination by shale
gas exploration and development for several years, the start of seismic testing
by SWN, and the damage to the land that has resulted, has escalated tensions.
Police presence in the region is highly visible.
At the same time, the Elsipogtog Mi’kmaq First Nation and their
neighbours are building deeper alliances. While the fasting ceremonies took
place in the bush, the Sacred Fire site hosted several hundred members of more
than twenty faith and environmental groups for a 6 July rally and potluck.
At the rally, Indigenous peoples, Francophones, Anglophones and other
New Brunswickers pledged together “to recognize the inherent land and treaty
rights of all Indigenous peoples [and] stand united with the Mi’kmaq on whose
land they [were] gathered.” Together, they made a “commitment to life,”
remembering that “water is life for each and every creature that lives [and
that] all the earth is a sacred trust—a fragile web of life to which we are all
Fasts will continue until 9 July 2013. The Elsipogtog community asks CPTers and other allies to support
the fast by choosing either to fast themselves, or to serve as helpers,
prayerfully eating and drinking with the intention of strengthening those
fasting by taking in nourishment on their behalf.