Q&A with Miles Howe

Journalist and activist releases book about struggles

Miles Howe speaks at Dunning Hall on Monday.
Miles Howe speaks at Dunning Hall on Monday.
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Journalist Miles Howe says his new book on anti-fracking protests helped him release the personal demons left behind by the struggle. 

Howe, who spoke on campus on Monday, released his book — Debriefing Elsipogtog: The Anatomy of Struggle — this summer, which gives a first-hand account of the Elsipogtog First Nation struggle against fracking in New Brunswick. 

In 2013, a Texas-based Southwestern Energy company obtained a license to search over a million hectares of land in New Brunswick for natural gas extraction. After they obtained the license, the Elsipogtog First Nations, the largest Aboriginal community in New Brunswick, became the central players in the anti-fracking movement. 

Months of protesting, arrests and violence from police and RCMP passed before the company was forced to leave New Brunswick and the province put a moratorium on fracking. 

Howe had been covering the anti-fracking protests for Media Co-Op, a local and grassroots independent news site. However, he became more than a witness to the events after he was arrested three times while covering the protests.

According to Media Co-Op, Howe was targeted specifically because of his role as a reporter. 

The website released an article in November 2013 stating that his arrests were an effort by the police to prevent Howe from reporting on the protests. 

Howe visited Queen’s University as part of a speaking tour with Annie Clair, a Mi’kmaq land defender and anti-fracking activist from the Elsipogtog First Nation. Howe and Clair are travelling across Canada to discuss and inform audiences about the protests against fracking in New Brunswick.

In an interview before his talk, The Journal spoke with Howe about his book and his experiences as a journalist.

Did you ever imagine this book, or your arrests, would be the outcome of your coverage and involvement of the anti-fracking movements?

Howe: No. And I didn’t ever want to be arrested covering this. I never wanted to be at all the focus of any of the attention of this story and I definitely am worried that being arrested would subsequently compromise people’s perception of my ability to be an objective source of information of this. 

If anything though, if I can take any solace from that is, for whatever reason, whenever I seem to get arrested it seemed to be a newsworthy issue. That was sort of like refracted into what I was talking about or what I was covering. 

A journalist being arrested and the subsequent sort of protest from journalist groups, the attention was sort of on me, yes. But then it was like: New Brunswick fracking. It was like an angle and it created attention for the topic.

Could you tell me more about the title of your book? It seems to indicate that you are providing a very comprehensive approach to the situation. 

Howe: You’re watching things for months on end that are very painful to see. 

You’re watching people be targeted based on the colour of their skin and be hurt and RCMP being very heavy-handed with the way that they’re treating people. And that does build up. Whether you have professional training to see that or whether you’re simply a community member that’s being forced upon you. 

So a “debriefing” for me is kind of a play on words. Because debriefing is somewhere where people can sort of let things go and talk about what happened and maybe share in that common sort of trauma and hence, maybe heal from that. 

That didn’t happen, and I know that doesn’t happen to a lot of grassroots struggles based on their sort of delegitimized in the eyes of the state.

I wandered around with a lot of demons in my head from those days. And I think that other people did too. So what I wanted to do was in some way just sort of have a full account of what happened, but also to have this information leave me personally.

What was the motivation behind writing your book? At what point did you realize this book needed to happen?

Howe: I didn’t see anybody else capable of doing this. And again, I felt that it was a story that need to be spoken about. 

So, I definitely questioned it, because it was sort of a rehashing… It wasn’t necessarily a nice period of time, it was stressful and straining and I don’t think that it was anything that anybody necessarily wanted to be doing. 

I don’t think anybody else could have done that in terms of what I knew and what I’d seen combined. I think I was the only person who could have written that book.

What was your biggest obstacle in writing your book? What sorts of obstacles have you continued to face after the release?

Howe: It’s going to be small gatherings. It’s going to be road trips pieced together. It’s going to be sort of a do-it-yourself publishing. I don’t really have a problem with that. 

I would love it if thousands upon thousands of people were reading this book, because I think that there is important information in it. I think that there’s information that you can look at and extrapolate to a variety of different situations across the country. So, I think it’s an important read. 

While I wish it was in everybody’s home, the reality is, is that it’s a contentious issue and it might hold some information in it that not everybody wants to publicize. So, we have to do it ourselves. 

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