Mi’kmaq Anti-Fracking Protest Brings Women to the Front Lines to Fight for Water

Courtesy Ossie Michelin, APTN National NewsThis photo of 28-year-old Amanda Polchies kneeling before Royal Canadian Mounted Police while brandishing an eagle feather during anti-fracking protests in New Brunswick has become iconic as a symbol of resistance to destructive industrial development—and of women's role in fighting for the water.
Courtesy Ossie Michelin, APTN National News
This photo of 28-year-old Amanda Polchies kneeling before Royal Canadian Mounted Police while brandishing an eagle feather during anti-fracking protests in New Brunswick has become iconic as a symbol of resistance to destructive industrial development—and of women’s role in fighting for the water.


By Martha Troian, Indian Country Today Media Network

As Amanda Polchies knelt down in the middle of the blocked-off highway with nothing but an eagle feather held aloft separating her from a solid wall of blue advancing police officers, she prayed.

“I prayed for the women that were in pain, I prayed for my people, I prayed for the RCMP officers,” the 28-year-old Elsipogtog First Nation member told Indian Country Today Media Network. “I prayed that everything would just end and nobody would get hurt.”

As Polchies faced off against hundreds of RCMP officers on the highway near her community, she couldn’t help but notice how many of those beside her were indigenous women—the keepers of the water, fighting to keep fracking chemicals out of the ground.

“So many people got hurt,” she said as she recalled “looking around, seeing all of these women.”

Mi'kmaq women face police in anti-fracking protest on October 17, 2013, in New Brunswick near Elsipogtog First Nation. (Photo: Twitter)
Mi’kmaq women face police in anti-fracking protest on October 17, 2013, in New Brunswick near Elsipogtog First Nation. (Photo: Twitter)

Polchies was just one of the dozens of indigenous people who grappled with fully armed RCMP officers just south of a town called Rexton on October 17, 2013. Very early that morning, the RCMP had moved in on an encampment of Mi’kmaq Warrior Society members and others as they slept. They were enforcing an injunction against the blockade of a worksite for SWN Resources Canada, the company that has been searching for shale gas in the area since spring.

RELATED: Police in Riot Gear Tear-Gas and Shoot Mi’kmaq Protesting Gas Exploration in New Brunswick

Photos and video of the raid show several snipers wearing camouflage or dressed all in black lying in surrounding fields. Hundreds of photos have emerged on social media from this day that show Indigenous people—both men and women of all ages—confronting police. But it’s hard not to notice how many of those images show indigenous women. Many women can be seen drumming, singing, praying and even smudging RCMP officers with the cleansing smoke of sage, cedar, sweetgrass or other traditional medicine.

RELATED: 10 Must-Share Images, Scenes and Far-Flung Shows of Support in the Mi’kmaq Anti-Fracking Protest

By the time Polchies arrived that afternoon, the situation had become a standoff. On one side, RCMP officers in a straight line across the highway. On the other, opponents to shale gas—the majority of them Mi’kmaq. Before long, the situation became a fight. Arguments erupted, women screamed, and weaponry was raised. The RCMP used tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and even dogs. Polchies saw two women hit with pepper spray in the face. Seeing these women in pain “spoke to” her, she said.

“I just realized I had a feather in my hand,” Polchies said. “I just knelt down in the middle of the road and I started praying.”

Polchies didn’t realize it at the time but a reporter with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network snapped a photo from behind with his phone and posted it to Twitter. That image of Polchies kneeling down with a raised eagle feather, facing a line of officers in front of her, has come to symbolize the conflict between First Nations and the government-supported oil and gas companies that covet the resources under their land. And central to that conflict are women, the defenders of the water.

Related: From Beginning to End: Walking the Mississippi River to Celebrate and Cherish Water

Mi'kmaq women stared down RCMP officers near Elsipogtog First Nation on October 17. (Photo: Twitter)
Mi’kmaq women stared down RCMP officers near Elsipogtog First Nation on October 17. (Photo: Twitter)

SWN Resources Canada, a subsidiary of Texas-based Southwestern Energy Company, has a license to explore 1 million hectares in the province of New Brunswick. While the company has only been searching for shale gas deposits, protesters believe that once they find them, it won’t be be long before the company employs the controversial technique known as fracking to get at it. Many fear that the practice, which involves injecting toxic chemicals into cracks in the rock to loosen the deposits, will contaminate and destroy local water systems. Protesters want to see SWN pack up and go home. Many women have been arrested, jailed and even injured as they passionately defend their life-giving water supply. Protests have been ongoing since June.

RELATED: Fracking Troubles Atlantic First Nations After Two Dozen Protesters Arrested

Indigenous women are traditionally responsible for water, said Cheryl Maloney, who is from Shubenacadie First Nation, a Mi’kmaq community near Truro, Nova Scotia, and is president of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association.

“Women have a connection to the water based on the moon and our cycles,” Maloney told Indian Country Today Media Network. “But that alone doesn’t explain the intense connection that our young people, the seventh generation have.”

There is an awakening going on, she said, with young women revitalizing their culture after years of seeing it being oppressed and taken away from their families through residential school.

“All the prophecies are pointing to these young people,” she said. “Our young people are spiritually awakened. Make no mistake, they are spiritually driven and following their ancestors.”

Haley Bernard, 22, of Pictou Landing, Nova Scotia, heeded the call. The recent graduate of Cape Breton University in Mi’kmaq Studies gave her support on the front lines on October 17, answering her best friend Suzanne Patles’ cry for help.

“Women are protectors of the water, we have water in our body, we carry a child, and they’re covered in water, so we’re meant to do that. We’re supposed to do that,” said Bernard. “We know the law, we know our treaties, we know what we’re supposed to protect.”

For her part, Polchies never planned on becoming a symbol. When the line of RCMP officers moved forward, she remained on her knees.

“I heard someone behind me saying, ‘Keep praying if you’re not going to get up.’ That’s what I did.”

All she could see was darkness from the uniforms that surrounded her.

“I just closed my eyes and held my feather and prayed for protection,” she said. “Then all of a sudden there was light.”

Polchies said that’s when RCMP officers moved to the other side of the road and started arresting people. One of the women Polchies saw was 66-year-old Doris Copage, a respected Mi’kmaq Elder from the Elsipogtog First Nation.

“I got pepper sprayed, I didn’t know what that was and I didn’t think they would do anything to the women,” Copage told Indian Country Today Media Network.

Armed with only a crucifix, Copage had set out that day with her husband in response to a call for help from the protest site. Seeing the gravity of the situation, Copage started to recite the rosary with the community’s priest, also present.

“The [RCMP officers] were really mocking at us, talking and laughing,” Copage said, adding that she questioned one of them at the frontline.

“I asked him, ‘Are you really ready to kill the Natives?’ ” she said, and was shocked by his answer.

“He looks at me and says, ‘Yes, if I have to,’ ” Copage said. “I said, ‘How many are you planning to kill?’ He didn’t say how many. He put his three fingers out.”

Copage told the officer that the indigenous people had no protection and that she had only came out as an Elder to pray. She intends to continue standing up for her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and the community.

“I want to call it ‘protect,’ ” said Copage, rather than “protest.” “We are here to protect our water, our land. We have a river. It’s a beautiful river, we love it and we respect it.”

Of the 40 people arrested, three men are still in custody, with no trial date in sight. Aaron Francis, Germaine “Junior” Breau and Coady Stevens, members of the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society, pleaded not guilty in New Brunswick Provincial Courthouse on Friday November 8, according to a statement from the society.

“I am happy they have entered their plea of not guilty,” said Susan Levi-Peters, former Chief of Elsipogtog First Nation, in a statement on November 8, “and I am saddened that they are still locked up for protecting our women and elders who were for fighting for our water and land.”


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/11/10/mikmaq-anti-fracking-protest-brings-women-front-lines-fight-water-152169

Mi’kmaq Victory against fracking on their lands in New Brunswick

Source: Climate Connection

Yesterday and today we celebrate with Elsipogtog First Nation after the Court of Queen’s Bench decision to lift Southwestern Energy’s (SWN) injunction! This injunction was filed by the Texas based company to end the blockade protecting Mi’kmaq traditional territory from fracking.

For the last three years, the Mi’kmaq people in New Brunswick have proclaimed their right to consultation regarding shale gas exploration, commonly known as “fracking”, and have been part of a series of peaceful actions to protect their unceded territory.  On Thursday Oct 18th, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) violently attacked their peaceful encampment.

Activist Suzanne Patles, one of those named in the injunction, said she believes the ruling from the judge sends a direct message to the energy company to stop their exploration activities and leave the province.The Elsipogtog protest was part of a larger campaign against fracking in New Brunswick encompassing 28 organizations. The 40 people arrested included most of the Elsipogtog First Nations leadership, including Chief Aaron Sock.

There was a press conference the morning of Oct 21st in Elsipogtog where people involved on the frontline shared their experiences of last weeks violence. The people of Elsipogtog are debriefing with the community about Thursday’s RCMP raid, and continue to discuss the next steps and development of a community process to move forward in protecting and defending their land and water against fracking.

Links to articles/videos:





Elsipogtog regroups as chief ponders new anti-fracking leadership

By Jorge Barrera, APTN National News
ELSIPOGTOG FIRST NATION–The Mi’kmaq-led opposition to shale gas exploration in New Brunswick continued to regroup Monday, moving into a new phase which could also bring new leadership to the ongoing struggle.

The movement was buoyed Monday afternoon after a Court of Queen’s Bench judge ruled against a Houston-based energy company that was seeking an indefinite injunction against an encampment along Route 134 in Rexton, NB.

The judge said the injunction was no longer needed because trucks belonging to SWN Resources Canada had been freed following an RCMP raid on the encampment Thursday.

The encampment had been blocking the company’s trucks in a compound. The RCMP acted last Thursday, one day before an interim injunction was set to expire, sweeping onto the site with dogs and camouflaged tactical units, arresting 40 people and seizing three rifles, ammunition and crude explosive devices.

At a press conference Monday morning, Elsipogtog Chief Aaron Sock said he is planning on appointing new leadership for the band’s role in the shale gas exploration opposition. Elsipogotog has been at the heart of the protest movement which has been raging since the summer.

“I have three people in mind right now, but we have yet to sit down and discuss,” said Sock. “I do have a spiritual advisor that I turn to and he will be part of the process.”

While Sock wouldn’t give details about the “logistics” of the next phase, it has emerged that there are discussions underway to move the encampment from its current location on Route 134 to a previous base within Elsipogtog’s territory used this past summer which sits just off Hwy 116.

“We are planning on going to the 116 where the sacred fire was before and do our healing there and get ready for the next round,” said Elsipogtog’s War Chief John Levi.

Levi is not connected to the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society.

Levi said there is no longer any point to the Route 134 encampment after the raid freed the exploration trucks it was blocking.

“There is no sense to being on the side of the road, it’s only a danger for our people,” said Levi.

Levi was in talks with the RCMP to remove the burned-out remains of several RCMP vehicles that were torched in the aftermath of Thursday’s raid. He wanted the RCMP to ground their surveillance plane, which had been circling the community, before releasing the vehicles.

On Sunday night, Sock and three friends removed the charred remains using three shovels, a half-ton truck and a local towing company. Sock said an RCMP sergeant was also involved in the removal.

“I took it on my own personally, just being a good neighbour to the people of Rexton, NB.,” said Sock.

The RCMP plane, which had been circling the area relentlessly, returned Monday.

The Mi’kmaq Warrior Society was essentially in charge of the camp at the time of the raid. It remained unclear what role the society will play once new leadership is appointed.

Mi’kmaq Warrior War Chief “Seven,” who was arrested during the raid but has since been freed, said he had no comment and would wait to hear more information.

The Warrior Society has widespread support within Elsipogtog. Several of their key players remained in jail awaiting bail hearings scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday.

Some at the site said they do not want to move the encampment from Route 134.

Louis Jerome, from Gesgapegiag First Nation in Quebec, said the current encampment is better strategically because it sits near Hwy 11 which passes over Route 134. The encampment is about 15 kilometres northeast of Elsipogtog and 80 km north of Moncton.

Over 100 Mi’kmaq and supporters blocked Hwy 11 for about an hour Saturday. Hwy 11 is one of the main highways in the province, running from Moncton north to Bathurst.

“We are going to stay here,” said Jerome. “This is a place where we can battle…We can see traffic, what is going through.”

Jerome said the plan is to move the encampment a few metres east from the current site to a field on an adjacent road where a teepee currently sits.

Route 134 was again reduced to one lane by the Mi’kmaq Monday evening.

Others said it didn’t matter where the camp was, as long as people were unified. Hubert Francis, from Elsipogtog, said confusion abounded following the raid.

“I am hearing three or four different stories, from three or four different sources,” said Francis. “From day one there has been a lot of miscommunication…We really don’t have a direction on where we are going with this.”

While Sock and the grassroots continue to sort out next steps on the ground, the Elsipogtog chief also has to prepare to continue talks with the provincial government.

“I don’t think this is any longer between Elsipogtog and SWN. This is between Elsipogtog and the province,” said Sock. “That is where the battle is.”

Sock met with New Brunswick Premier David Alward Friday and, while the two had been making progress before the raid, Thursday’s events changed the landscape.

“When you have two opposing ideas, you just butt heads,” said Sock. “Right now we just don’t see eye to eye.”

Sock said Elsipogtog doesn’t want shale gas exploration while the province sees it as a “money maker.” The chief said the Mi’kmaq see no benefit to the province developing shale gas deposits through fracking, or hydraulic fracturing.

“We don’t want to be the ones at the end of the day, 50 or 60 years down the road, which is the average life span of a shale gas well, to be stuck with thousands of wells,” said Sock. “The province will have made their money and we are stuck with the refuse, the garbage.”