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Drilling For Oil And Gas

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Issue: 31 Section: Opinion Topics: racism, Indigenous, oil

October 6, 2005

Drilling For Oil And Gas

Down At The Intersection Of Racism, Patriarchy, Capitalism, And Imperialism

by Stewart Steinhauer

illustration by Sylvia Nickerson
Whether it's turtles all the way down, or the mysterious forces of quantum mechanics, Turtle Island stands on something. The multi-millennia old human societies existing on Turtle Island stand on something, too. Sitting in the circle at a pipe ceremony, I'm reminded of this foundation, because it's "written" right into the pipe ceremony. The pipe is offered to our relative, the bear, and we ask that, when we see the four legs of the bear, we will remember the four legs of indigenous society: humble kindness, sharing, honesty, and determination.

The European society that arrived on our shores aboard Columbus' ships was also based on a foundation. In homage to Ancient Greece, the wellspring of western civilization, I'll use the image of hand-carved stone pillars, holding up the superstructure of modernity. Perhaps genuine members of western civilization may not agree with me, but I see these pillars as human-crafted social institutions, built over a 5500 year period with a lot of blood, sweat and tears. These pillars are racism, patriarchy, capitalism, and imperialism, and I can't think of a better example of these pillars in action than Canada's Indian Act.

In 1876, the subjects of the Indian Act were not Canadian citizens. Approximately 85 years passed before they were; I was about ten years old when I was arbitrarily made a citizen of Canada. When I researched international law to see by what legal mechanism a nation passes legislation over people not its citizens, the report I got back, from several professional sources, was that there is no legal mechanism. I believe that the correct term for this mechanism is "imperialism". Imperialism is the oldest of the four pillars of western civilization.

The 1876 version of the Indian Act was formulated to send indigenous Peoples on a forced march through European feudal history, in order to prepare us for some future entry into capitalism. When looked at through the sociologist's lens, we see indigenous Peoples as serfs, the Indian Agents as local managers, and the Minister of Indian Affairs as the Lord of the Manor. The notion, in the 1800s, that indigenous Peoples needed to be brought up to speed in order to join civilization, is a display of racism ("you're subhuman") and patriarchy ("this might hurt, but I'm doing it for your own good").

The real point of the Indian Act is genocide; the forced march through feudalism was just an exercise to occupy bureaucratic minds as they went about their routine desk-killer functions, perhaps most vividly demonstrated by Canada's poet laureate, Duncan Campbell Scott. However, as another Scotty poet, Robbie Burns said: "The best laid plans of mice and men aft gang aglay." Ottawa's thumb-twiddling exercise inadvertently protected indigenous Peoples from a full exposure to capitalism. Delgamuuk, which established the legal principle of Aboriginal Title, was an alarm bell wake up call. Did somebody fall asleep at the switch? It's the 21st century, and we still have the Indian Act, with its feudal relationships. The crux of Canada's dilemma today is that the physical genocide has failed, and there are still indigenous Peoples who can access, though oral history in indigenous languages, a shadowy image of the past, with its political and cultural implications for the future.

If we look into the shadow past, as people like the late Harold Cardinal did, we can see the faint outline of a non-racist, non-patriarchal society. The first lost and wandering European "explorers" were greeted by Cree Peoples as "kiciwamwinihwak", a term literally translating as "distant cousins". At that time, identity was assumed to be based on a way of life, not skin, hair or eye colour, as Tanya Wasacase has brilliantly argued in her Empty Mirror thesis, available online at darknightpress.org . Over the passing centuries, the term "wapskewiyas" has been added on, literally translating as "white meat"; our distant white meat cousins have brought the concept of race to us, and most indigenous Peoples have embraced this concept.

Those first lost and wandering Europeans were men, traveling thousands of miles from home without women. What kind of people behave like this? In pre-European contact societies it was well understood that we men are very insecure about our value to society, having, as we do, just one essential task to perform. Over time, indigenous women created roles for men to calm this potentially disruptive insecurity, ingeniously weaving us into the fabric of society. Here, on the northern prairies, that society revolved around the grandmothers, and ghost shadows of that matriarchal past still flit about. For instance Cree people who can't speak Cree still know one word: "kokum", literally, "your grandmother". In ceremony, the grandmothers sit in the background, observing the Elder men performing ritual, ready in an instant to discreetly correct any errors of commission or omission. The grandmothers hold the oral history of the People. Even modern family structures show the ghost shadow; women still have children with two, three or four men. Legitimacy is conferred upon the child by the mother, not the father. And, of course, like everywhere else in the world, "existence" work is performed by women.

Shadows of the past are one thing, but you don't need to hunt for ghost shadows to see the outline of a former matriarchal society. You can do as I have done, take tobacco to an Elder woman who still knows her role, and sit down to listen to the whole picture being reframed.

However, two centuries of fur trade, culminating in the Treaties and the Indian Act, taught us about patriarchy, and, along with racism, most indigenous Peoples have embraced that, too. The so-called traditional Cree headman system is actually a product of the fur trade, amplified by the Treaty negotiations, and broadcast by the Indian Act. In 1876, Treaty Commissioner Alexander Morris records, in his autobiography, bribing Cree men to think of themselves as "Headmen". Then, in a special addendum to the 1876 Annual Report to the Indian Department, he worries about having created a class of Indian men who will think of themselves as the Queen's servants. These worries bore fruit in 1990, when Canada's Supreme Court ruled that Chief and Councils are a legal arm of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.

Did I say "embraced"? Perhaps "clung to" is more accurate than "embraced". Imperialism, with its state monopoly on organized violence, can have a huge influence on how people choose to live their lives. Sir John A MacDonald formed the North West Mounted Police to, in his own words, "keep the Indians and Metis of the west under a firm hand until the settler population far outnumbered them." Today, the RCMP, descendents of the NWMP, are busy in Haiti, helping to train former paramilitary and military thugs, including convicted murderers, as the new Haitian National Police, a police force who actively arrests, tortures, and murders Haitians based on their political beliefs.

In 1992, a constable at the nearest RCMP detachment, in St. Paul, Alberta, told me that the St Paul RCMP detachment was known as a "rough holds" training center. New RCMP officers come fresh out of the Regina training headquarters, the place where Canada hung Louis Riel, and get some real on-the-job training; the seven Indian Act Bands surrounding St. Paul provide perfect rough holds training opportunities. How many indigenous People have died in custody, or as a result of RCMP actions, or as a result of RCMP inactions?

I asked this question of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP; months passed with no response. Then I received an apology for the delay in responding, followed by another long interval. Finally, I discovered that the head of the Commission was having difficulty with the RCMP, and had gone to the national media with her tale of woe. Under these kinds of conditions, I could argue that we've adopted racism and patriarchy as a temporary survival tactic, to physically survive the genocide unleashed by imperialism. But what about Capital?

Capitalism is the most revolutionary force ever visited upon humankind. It sweeps into a region and blows away all of the pre-existing social institutions, replacing them with capitalist laws of motion. The imperatives of competition and profit-maximization, the compulsion to reinvest surpluses, and the systematic and relentless need to improve labour-productivity and develop the forces of production override all other concerns. This is plainly seen in Haiti, today: what does the poorest country in the western hemisphere have that made it worthwhile for the US, Canada, and France to join forces and stage a military coup to overthrow Aristide's democratically elected government? Why, that most basic commodity of all, the one that builds all other commodities: labour. Just ask Canadian corporations like SNC Lavalin, or Gildan Activewear, or Andy Apaid, Gildan's main subcontrator in Haiti.

Certain unmentionable economists have speculated that a primary driver for genocide on Turtle Island has been the unwillingness of indigenous Peoples to see ourselves as a commodity. Mentionable economists have called this reluctance "backwardness", and used it to justify….well, genocide. The ignoble savages have, in the meantime, been resisting comodification, giving rise to pow-wow circuit jokes like: "Why can an Indian man make love all night, while a White man can't? Answer: Because he doesn't have to go to work in the morning!" Don't you just love racism and patriarchy dolled up in buckskin? Ah, but the heady days of feudalism are coming to an end. Ready or not, Canada is preparing me for full participation in capitalism, with or without my consent, whether I understand what's going on, or not. Canada wants to solve "my problem" by putting me to work.

If we turn a blind eye to the phenomena of "offshore outsourcing of labour", our local "aboriginal" politicians have begun echoing the political mantra of "jobs jobs jobs". Here, in northeastern Alberta, "jobs jobs jobs" means oil and gas. So what kind of political animal is this "jobs jobs jobs" beast?

There are two types of work: existence work, and exploitative (capitalist) work. My search of history, both written and oral, reveals a prequel to post-modern society, perhaps the first leisure society, right here on the northern plains. Important technology was held in intellectual property form, rather than in physical property form, and existence tasks included contemplation, discussion, play, ceremony, travel, recreation, celebration, and procreation, along with the usual concern for "food, shelter and clothing". There was nothing nasty, short or brutish about day-to-day life in any way.

In contrast, capitalist work, under the guise of providing food, shelter, and clothing, is actually a totalitarian social control system, producing so-called "wealth" as a mere by-product. Over 5 millennia, racism, patriarchy and imperialism have provided a good measure of totalitarian control, but, arising in agrarian England in the 1600s, capitalism nicely completes the control system. This gang of four work together, through something called "the market", with the first three providing excellent profit-making "externalities" for the fourth.

Okay. Over in this corner, badly bruised and beaten, we have our rag-tag Indian Act Bands, and over in the other corner we have the global oil and gas industry….got the picture? The Delgamuuk bell rings, and oil and gas comes out swinging.

Yes, Exxon-Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, and the rest of the gang are here, but we're going to get out the microscope, and focus in on two energy corporations acting locally for their global thinkers. First is Western Lakota Energy Services, with its two income streams: building state-of-the-art drilling rigs to sell to Indian Act Bands, and performing contract drilling. Isn't that cute, sticking "Lakota" into their corporate name, with a feather as a logo? The feather in their cap is the recent announcement of the appointment of Victor Buffalo, former Indian Act chief for Samson Cree Nation, to their board of directors.

Looking at Western Lakota Energy Services' (WLES) Q2-05 report, I see that their EBITDAS (earnings from continuous operations before interest) have increased by 155% over the same reporting period in 2004, and net profit has increase by 188%. Looking at WLES' two income streams I see that gross profits from contract drilling for Q2-05 are $11,955,000, a 117% increase over last year's Q2. WLES reports the construction and sale of three new rigs in the Q2-05 period, for revenues of $8,982,000, reporting gross profits from rig construction, after net revenue recovery, to be $4,886,000.

A 50% share in one of those three rigs was sold to my band, Saddle Lake First Nation. WLES has 50% share limited partnerships with 6 so-called "First Nations", a term, by the way, coined by Canada's Justice Department, and handed off to the National Indian Brotherhood at the time of the formation of the AFN, as a diversionary tactic. Is that the Metis war cry of "we're being left out again!" I hear? The Metis Nation of Alberta has a 50% share in a WLES drilling rig, too.

Correct me if I'm right, but it looks like Indian Act Bands pay WLES what it costs WLES to construct a drilling rig, with WLES' 50% share being the profits from the sale of those rigs. WLES then operates those rigs, performing contract drilling, charging these Indian Act Bands management fees, and also making private loans to these bands so that they can pony up their 50% share. WLES' 2004 annual report states that so-called FNs (those FN Indians!) paid WLES $755,000 in management fees, and $111,000 in interest.

This is the second drilling rig that Saddle Lake First Nation has purchased a 50% share in; Saddle Lake leadership's reasoning for partnering with WLES in drilling rigs was to create jobs for band members. According to my math, capitalist jobs equal assimilation equal genocide. Grass roots band members haven't fallen for it. Saddle Lake's on-reserve unemployment rate ranges from 70% to 90%, but very few band members have stayed at the drilling rig work. Those who tried to work on the rigs have found the combination of racism, patriarchy, imperialism and exploitative labour overwhelming. As a result, WLES primarily employs non-indigenous people to perform contract drilling with Saddle Lakes' 2 rigs.

Contract drilling, hmmm? It's time to introduce Encana, formed in 2002 by a merger between the Alberta Energy Corporation, a privatized provincial energy corporation, and the Canadian Pacific Railroad. Encana is one of the largest regional energy corporations, who, as part of their operations, hire contract drillers, and is therefore WLES' main employer. Both of Encana's parent corporations got their assets from illegal expropriations of indigenous property. Alberta's 1931 Natural Resources Transfer Act, source of Alberta Energy Corporation's assets, violates Treaty Six, as do the CPR's land grants. Alberta's Premier, Ralph Klein, publicly stated that Alberta doesn't have to worry about the implications of Delgamuuk because Alberta is covered by Treaties with indigenous Peoples. Treaty Six, for instance. Premier Klein believes that Treaty Six is a land surrender. However, the UN, which featured Treaty Six as the best example of a negotiated Treaty between a modern nation-state and nations of indigenous Peoples, at the conclusion of the UN's 25 year study on such treaties, agreements, and constructive arrangements, agreed with our Elders. Our Elders have always maintained that Treaty Six is a shared use agreement, and that, in spite of genocide, indigenous Peoples still agree to share.

Alright, I'll culture a little sample of WLES in my Petri dish, and slip it under the microscope. To solve Canada's Indian Problem with "jobs jobs jobs", my band, Saddle Lake, purchased a 50% share in a drilling rig. Against my express wishes, I and my fellow band members put up the cash for WLES to build a drilling rig, through a combination of band funds and borrowed money. WLES built the rig, and it immediately went to work for Encana, in the natural gas-rich "greater sierra region" in northeastern BC, which, believe it or not, is Cree territory implicated by the Delgamuuk decision.

BC's Premier Gordon Campbell is following the practical solution employed by Alberta in the Lubicon situation: get in there and exploit as much resource as possible while the whole issue is being thrashed out. Last year I overheard a comment made by a Saddle Lake manager, reporting that Campbell's government was paying Encana a $100,000 per hole incentive to drill as many holes as possible, as quickly as possible, in the greater sierra region.

Let's check the score card. Saddle Lake gets a 50% limited partnership in 2 rigs, with an accompanying debt of about 7 million dollars, no permanent jobs, and few temporary jobs, while WLES gets paid in cash what it costs them to build these rigs. WLES then gets to perform contract drilling with these rigs, being paid a premium by Saddle Lake to manage the rigs, as well as being paid interest on the loan that they've made to Saddle Lake so that Saddle Lake can purchase the limited 50% share. Saddle Lake First Nation helps WLES help Encana help Gordon Campbell's BC government in the emergency action of drilling as many holes as possible in unceded Cree territory in northern BC.

WLES and Encana get national awards, and lots of positive media coverage about their humanitarian efforts to help the "poor Indians", and Gordon Campbell gets re-elected, while the whole bunch of them rob us "poor Indians" blind at every step.

Sweet deal! And, if you consider Canadian law to be legal, it's all legal.

Our local band leadership, almost all men, all deeply indoctrinated into racist, patriarchal thinking, want to impose the "jobs jobs jobs" mantra on our band population. After all, they have to; they've been given their marching orders by Ottawa. By Canada's laws, our Chief and Council don't represent us, they represent Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. Every three years we have a little psuedo-election to see who will be the next local representatives of the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, while in the background, this Department pulls local Council's strings. Hidden in the deeper background, transnational corporations, and the global wealthy elite who "own" these corporations, pull the Department's strings.

Nowhere in any of this discussion do I hear reports of the petro-chemical industry's links to global warming, the global cancer epidemic, and resource wars without end. In the 2004 film, "The Corporation", Dr. Samuel Epstein, an expert witness, says, "If I put a gun to your head and shot you, it's murder. If I knowingly expose you to something which will kill you, it's the same thing." He's talking about the petro-chemical industry.

My proposed solution? Here goes the broken record: adhere to international law, recognize indigenous Peoples' title to land, and sovereignty over that land, which will place us in the "owner" slot. Then we can see if the genocidal assimilation project has succeeded in crippling the four legs of our society. Back in the day, when we were savages, there was plenty for all.

Under capitalism, with its planned scarcity as a cover for the "natural" and "inevitable" rise of privilege, enshrined in individualistic liberal philosophy, there can never be enough to satisfy even one man's greed. When I quit using alcohol, in 1980, I met an elder at an all-night AA meeting held in a tipi, who said: "The white man tried to borrow our ideas for democracy and for communism, but he got them both wrong." Karl Marx had become fascinated by indigenous philosophy, towards the end of his life; the Brits, in a UK-wide poll, just voted Marx as the most important philosopher of all time.

Perhaps the real "Indian Problem" is that we had a minimum of 15,000 years to develop social organization independently from Europe; the keystone of our social organization, our intellectual property, was invisible to the Euro-centric eye. 160 years ago, one of the most advanced European thinkers was starting to catch a faint glimmer; how much time do we humans have left to figure it out, before we stupidly destroy our lovely little nest floating in space?

Next: Reverse-Engineering Intellectual Property: How To Deconstruct A Canadian Indian In The Privacy Of Your Own Home.

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