Our Struggles are United

By Guest Contributor

I write to us all from Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick, Canada. For the past three years, a coalition of First Nations people, French Acadians and Anglophones have been working together to keep Southwestern Energy Company (SWN), a hydraulic fracturing company, from polluting the water and land here in the search for gas and profits.

I write to connect the struggle in New Brunswick with our work in Addison County against the fracked gas pipeline, as well as Middlebury College’s investments in industries of violence and destruction. This week, I have been supporting the communities here in their goals of stopping the fracking industry in its tracks.

Over the past three days, we have blockaded a storage facility for fracking equipment, stopping SWN’s operations in the area. The space in front of the company gate has been transformed into a community area with three meals a day for the protectors of the water. People sit around the fires sharing stories, telling jokes, and singing songs. Banners fly in the fall winds, and spirits remain high as people resist for a higher purpose, protecting their sacred water.

On Oct. 1, Treaty Day in New Brunswick, the Elsipogtog First Nation Band Council issued an historic declaration at the encampment. For the first time ever for a band council, they voted to reclaim all crown lands held by the Canadian government in their unceded territory and served SWN with an eviction notice. This reasserts the Mi’kmaq People’s right to this land since time immemorial, as well as their role in protecting the land and water.

Transnational corporations have been sacrificing the health and well-being of the local communities and Mother Earth for too long. Seeing the impacts of fracking, the people here, settler and native alike, are saying “enough!”

One hundred kilometres away in Penobsquis, the fracking industry has operated unabated for almost ten years. The air stinks and people report daily headaches, dizziness, and increasing rates of cancer. When I visited the well sites, I immediately had a headache and felt sick from the chemicals in the air.

The industry and government claimed that each well would create dozens of jobs, just as in Addison County we hear the same argument surrounding the pipeline. In Penobsquis, they have found the opposite to be true. Farmers’ land has been ruined from gas wells and underground piping. Throughout the area, 66 families lost their well water, and some houses are now worthless due to proximity to the gas wells and shifting ground which caused structural problems. This is what is happening in extraction communities.

Our struggle in Addison County is connected to those in Penobsquis. All of the gas from New Brunswick is sold to the United States. In Addison County, we are about to decide on a project that would increase demand for Canadian fracked gas. Middlebury College is also making money from oil and gas companies like, or even including, SWN. These companies silence the voices of local people and brush aside their experiences.

People on the front lines are fighting hard, and our struggles to stop the expansion of fracked gas infrastructure in Addison County lends strength to their work. For those of us who have yet to be convinced to stop this pipeline, I share with you the stories of people much like ourselves who now have the daily and generational legacies of pollution destroying their livelihoods. When I asked what message they had to send to Vermont, Beth Nixon and Heather McCabe of Penobsquis said, “Stop them [the natural gas companies] at all costs. We wish they had never come here.”

Let us heed this call by stopping the gas companies at all costs, resisting side-by-side with the Elsipogtog First Nation, the people of Penobsquis, and our neighbors in Addison County to protect the lands and the waters of these places we all call home.

SAM KOPLINKA-LOEHR ’13 is from Ithaca, N.Y.