By Jorge Barrera, April 15, 2014. Source: APTN News
Another round of battles loom between the Mi’kmaq in New Brunswick and a Houston-headquartered energy firm exploring for shale gas deposits in the province.
SWN Resources Canada has submitted two proposals under the province’s environmental impact assessment process to drill exploratory wells in separate parts of New Brunswick. The projects were registered with the provincial environment department on Monday, according to an official.
The company plans to drill one well in Chipman, which is in central New Brunswick, and a second well near Richibucto, which is in an area that saw intense demonstrations against shale gas exploration last autumn.
The Mi’kmaq community of Elsipogtog is only about 17 kilometres west of Richibucto and its War Chief John Levi said SWN should again expect resistance.
“We are just getting ready to go back out there and stop them. It’s going to be rough,” said Levi. “It ain’t no game. This is our livelihood that is at stake. We are not going to allow it. It’s like they are trying to kill us slowly.”
SWN Resources Canada, which is owned by Houston-based Southwestern Energy Company, could not be reached for comment.
The Mi’kmaq, in an alliance with Acadians and residents of Anglophone communities in the region, led months-long protests against SWN Resources Canada. The Mi’kmaq feared the discovery of shale gas would lead to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
The company ended its shale gas seismic exploration work this past December amid burning tires and highway clashes between demonstrators and the RCMP.
The RCMP also launched a heavily armed raid of an anti-fracking camp anchored by the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society last Oct. 17. The camp was blocking a compound holding SWN’s exploration vehicles. The raid triggered day-long clashes and the burning of six RCMP vehicles. Police arrested about 40 people that day.
The company has applied to have its exploration wells approved under the province’s phased EIA process which allows some components of proposed projects to unfold amid the environmental review. The environment department is currently putting together a technical committee to review SWN’s proposed wells, according to a provincial official with knowledge of the file.
SWN wants to build two well pads for vertical drilling that will range in depths between 1,000 and 4,000 metres. The company wants to determine the geology of the area by examining rock samples coming out of the holes, according to the provincial official who has read the company’s proposal.
The environmental assessment will also include input from the public.
Suzanne Patles of the Mi’kmaq Warriors Society spoke at a strategy session co-sponsored by First Nations Studies SFU, and the English Department, SFU at the downtown Harbour Centre campus Friday, January 24th, on unceded Coast Salish Territories.
Members of the Mi’kmaq Warriors Society, who have been arrested and incarcerated at Elsipogtog, New Brunswick, are on a speaking tour in January and February to raise awareness about their struggle against fracking, their ongoing assertion and exercise of nationhood, and the repression they face from police and courts.
“Our warriors are still being mistreated in the system, justice for our political prisoners of war.” Suzanne Patles
Late Monday evening, after the tires were set on fire, a group of anti-fracking demonstrators round danced against a backdrop of flames in the middle of a New Brunswick highway while they waited for the RCMP to respond.
The tires were set alight in the late afternoon around the same time a New Brunswick court judge in the provincial capital of Fredericton granted an extension to an injunction against the demonstrators for 14 more days.
(A round dance by flaming tires on Hwy 11. Photo courtesy of Candi Simon)
An increasing drumbeat of eye-witness reports from the area late Monday evening indicated that the RCMP was ramping up its numbers in preparations to move on the blockade.
There was also a report from an eye-witness that a total of three fires had been lit on Hwy 11 in the same vicinity.
SWN Resources Canada, a Houston-based energy firm, asked for the injunction arguing weather and protests had slowed down the last phase of its shale gas exploration work. Its previous injunction was set to expire at midnight.
The flaming tires on Hwy 11 followed a day of heated confrontation near Richibucto, NB, where SWN Resources Canada had been trying to continue its exploration work for shale gas deposits.
Richibucto is about 83 kilometres north of Moncton and sits at the place where the Richibucto River flows into Richibucto Harbour which links to Northumberland Strait.
Videos from the scene showed lines of RCMP officers pushing groups of demonstrators off the highway. The RCMP officers would shout “move” as they tried to force the demonstrators into the ditches.
It’s unclear how many people were arrested during the day. APTN National News has been able to confirm at least five arrests from eye-witness accounts.
(RCMP arrest a man on Hwy 11 earlier in the day Monday. Photo courtesy of David Goodswimmer)
Two young Mi’kmaq men were arrested during the afternoon.
Judd Poulette and his friend, who goes by the aka “Soda Pop,” said they were taken to the Shediac RCMP detachment.
Poulette said RCMP officers stomped on his knuckles and they swelled to the point paramedics had to visit the holding cell to drain them.
“They were stomping me while I got arrested for walking an elder on the side of the road,” said Poulette, after his release.
The J-Division RCMP media relations officer did not return repeated phone calls and emails seeking comment and confirmation of the day’s events.
While RCMP units from other provinces, including Saskatchewan and Quebec, are in New Brunswick to bolster the police presence there, J-Division continues to command the ongoing operation.
APTN National News has relied on videos, photographs and eye-witness testimony to piece together the day’s events.
As of this article’s posting, the anti-fracking demonstrators were attempting to maintain a permanent blockade of Hwy 11.
“This is a permanent blockade, everybody is sick and tired of this,” said one Elsipogtog First Nation resident from the scene.
The Mi’kmaq from Elsipogtog have been leading the fight against SWN for months and their strength has been bolstered by supporters from the Acadian and Anglophone communities in the region.
The current blockade is about 18 km northeast of Elsipogtog.
Several Acadians have been arrested over the past few days in relation to the ongoing demonstrations.
APTN National News contacted one of the demonstrators involved in the blockade who said the tires where set on fire in response to RCMP tactics and the incident involving the truck and three women demonstrators.
The RCMP had managed to surround the demonstrators on the highway several times.
“They got some of our people blocked in a little ways so we’re gonna block them,” said one of the demonstrators, an Elsipogtog community member.
One of the trucks involved with SWN’s exploration work bumped into three women on the highway, according to two eye-witnesses.
SWN has also been using contractors during its exploration work.
The witnesses said the demonstrators tried to stop a white truck which was driving at a low speed on the highway. The witnesses said the truck sped up and hit one woman. A second woman ran over to the truck and was also bumped. While a man began yelling at the driver, the truck bumped into a third woman.
The witnesses said two of the women were taken to hospital with bruises. The incident did not cause any life-threatening injuries.
“And all through this the (driver) was smiling away,” said one witness. “The cops were right there and they said they didn’t see anything.”
The day also saw several banner drops in Montreal, Toronto and Hamilton in support of Elsipogtog, along with an hour-long blockade at the federal Vancouver port terminal and protests in Halifax and Ottawa.
SWN has faced ferocious opposition to its exploration for months.
Elsipogtog residents fear the discovery of shale gas will lead to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and pose a threat to the area’s water.
Their concerns are also shared by non-First Nation people from the surrounding communities who have been supporting their demonstrations and the various camps set up to counter SWN’s exploration work.
Heavily-armed RCMP tactical units raided an anti-fracking camp on Oct. 17 that was blocking SWN’s exploration vehicles in a compound in Rexton, NB. About 40 people were arrested after a day of violent confrontation between Elsipogtog residents and the RCMP.
The RCMP said officers seized three rifles, ammunition and crude explosives from the campsite. The police also freed SWN’s vehicles.
Premier David Alward has signaled he wants to see the protests broken, calling the current conflict on Hwy 11 a “beachhead” that could determine the fate of other energy projects slated to hit the province.
TransCanada is planning to build a pipeline to Saint John, NB, that would carry Alberta mined bitumen to an expanded terminal owned by Irving Oil. Irving Oil executives have been quoted in news reporters saying shale gas would provide a cheap source of energy for the firm to process the additional bitumen coming from Alberta.
Irving Oil is owned by the Irving family which also owns JD Irving Ltd. JD Irving owns Industrial Security Ltd. which provides security for SWN.
Irving Oil and JD Irving are independent companies, run separately.
The scene was chaotic: heavily armed Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) pouring into an encampment of sleeping protesters, leading dogs and carrying assault rifles. Amid burning police cars, pepper-spray-spewing hoses and barking police dogs, 28-year-old Amanda Polchies dropped to her knees, brandishing the only “weapon” she had: an eagle feather. Holding it aloft, she began to pray.
The image is emblazoned in people’s minds as a symbol not just of the Mi’kmaq protest against potential fracking near Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick, Canada, but also of what has been happening to Natives since Europeans first stepped onto Turtle Island’s shores. Since APTN reporter Ossie Michelin snapped and posted the photo, the image has morphed into poster art, memes and other incarnations.
Michelin had no idea his image would come to represent the Elsipogtog protest movement, let alone much more. In an interview on Native Trailblazers Radio, Michelin spoke of his spur-of-the-moment shot taken with a three-year-old iPhone, and the bond it formed between photographer and subject.
Did you have any idea the picture you took would become viral and help inspire the Elsipogtog social media movement online?
I had no idea. I was tweeting as many pictures as I could during my coverage because I was promoting live hits for the APTN Network. There were times I thought, ‘The world needs to see this right now.’ The picture was one of many I was sharing that day.
My producer called me and said, ‘Ossie, that picture has been shared over 160,000 times in the past four hours.’ I said, ‘What? The picture I took? Which picture?’ I took that picture on my three-year-old iPhone4 and I had to go back and look through my pictures. I saw it and only then did it really sink in.
Those were some volatile times during the moments you were taking those photographs.
The RCMP made over 30 arrests before the raid on October 17. People were running all over the place. We did not know what was happening. I didn’t realize how many people were paying attention to this. All I knew was two feet in front of me and 20 feet behind me; I did not know what was going on in the world that day because we were completely cut off, with police lines on either side of us.
Part of my healing process was I got to meet Amanda Polchies, the woman in the photograph.
How was it when you two met?
I was afraid it was going to be awkward, and I was afraid she was going to be mad at me. But we met and we clicked. We did a ceremony together and her father did a pipe ceremony with me to help me get rid of the nightmares. I have been sleeping a lot better ever since.
Do you talk to her now?
Since that time Amanda has adopted me into her family. She is a sister from another mister, and I am a brother from another mother. She gave me some stuff from her culture; I am going to give her some from mine, and every time I see her I give her a big hug.
We are bonded for life. We both say that picture will probably outlive us both.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
UPDATE: Elsipogtog Chief Aaron Sock moved burnt-out trucks Sunday night with two friends, a shovel and a local tow-truck company. War Chief John Levi says still wants RCMP to ground surveillance flights to move camp to Hwy 116 site. Mi’kmaq Warrior Society spokeswoman Suzanne Patles says group needs mandate to continue participating if camp moves.
By Jorge Barrera, APTN National News ELSIPOGTOG FIRST NATION–The remaining encampment along Route 134 that was the scene of a heavily-armed raid Thursday will be dismantled if the RCMP grounds its surveillance aircraft, said Elsipogtog’s War Chief John Levi.
Levi said stopping the surveillance flights would be an act of good faith and allow people in the community to heal.
Levi said he spoke with RCMP officers Sunday who also wanted free passage to remove the burned-out shells of their vehicles torched during Thursday’s raid.
“I told them, get rid of that plane. We are trying to heal and you are still there poking us with a stick,” said Levi. “They are not willing to call off the plane and I told them I am not backing them up on cleaning up their mess. It works both ways, when you negotiate something, you get something.”
He said he came away frustrated from the meeting, but hoped to convince the police to do the right thing Monday.
“Let our people heal, don’t agitate any more, it is so simple,” said Levi. “Yet they can’t even do that.”
New Brunswick RCMP could not be reached for comment.
Levi is the war chief specifically for Elsipogtog and is not connected to the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society which was in charge of security at the encampment at the time of the RCMP raid by camouflaged tactical units.
Levi was a prominent spokesperson for Elsipogtog’s anti-fracking movement throughout this past summer.
Levi said there are plans to move the encampment and light a sacred fire in an open area used during the summer. The area, which was once the nerve centre of the region’s anti-fracking movement, sits just off Hwy 116 which runs through Elsipogtog First Nation’s territory.
“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 Levi.
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.
Many of the Warrior Society’s core members were among the 40 arrested during the raid. At least two involved in its leadership are still in custody. The RCMP also seized three hunting rifles, ammunition, knives and crude improvised explosive devices.
The encampment is less than a kilometre away from a high school.
“For the safety of the students there, we don’t want anything to escalate here anymore,” said Levi.
Levi said he’s never advocated the use of weapons or violence.
“I told my supporters, let’s kill them with kindness. The only weapons we carry are drums, sweetgrass and sage,” said Levi.
A community meeting was held in Elsipogtog Sunday afternoon to discuss the trauma experienced by community members as a result of the raid.
Levi said the community hall would remain open 24-7 throughout the week for people who need counselling as a result of the events.
“We have to help our people heal,” said Levi, in an interview with APTN National News by the burned out police cruisers as the RCMP’s surveillance plane circled overhead.
Elsipogtog Chief Aaron Sock also asked the community to allow RCMP members to return to the detachment on the reserve, said Willi Nolan, from Elsipogtog.
“There is great disappointment, there is mistrust of (the RCMP by) the people,” said Nolan.
Nolan said Thursday’s raid, which triggered widespread chaos and clashes between police and demonstrators, left many people shaken.
“The community suffered terrible trauma. We saw our elders, youth and women being injured, being hurt by the police because a corporation wants to poison everything,” she said. “They saw what the law does.”
But there was another sentiment just beneath the pain, said Nolan.
“It was also celebratory. One elder said, ‘we are winning,’” she said. “Even though it doesn’t feel like it now, it feels like we are all traumatized, but he said we are winning and I want to believe him.”
The encampment along Route 134 continued to hum with life late Sunday evening as volunteers split and piled fire wood while others sat around fires chatting and smoking cigarettes. In one area, a group of warriors were called into a circle and told that their job was not to instigate, but to keep the peace.
There was an air that this could all continue indefinitely, even as they opened the road back to two lanes of traffic. The day before, over 100 Mi’kmaqs and their supporters marched from the site and for about an hour blocked Hwy 11, which passes over Route 134.
Some people, who did not want to be named, criticized the meeting held earlier in the day. One long-time supporter said he thought the meeting was going to map out the next steps in the protest and came away disappointed. He said he planned to dig in for the long haul.
Assembly of Manitoba Grand Chief Derek Nepinak visited the site late Saturday night and attended the meeting Sunday after participating in a ceremony on the community’s Sundance grounds with Sock. The two exchanged gifts and smoked a peace pipe.
Nepinak said he suspected there was collusion between the RCMP and Houston-based SWN Resources Canada, which had its vehicles trapped by the encampment. SWN is conducting shale gas exploration in the region. Shale gas is extracted through fracking, a controversial method many believe poses a threat to the environment.
“How is it that during this process that the company was able to come in untouched and remove their equipment?” said Nepinak. “There was obviously a degree of collusion.”
Yesterday, Upriver Environment Watch called a press conference at the Super 8 motel in Dieppe, New Brunswick. Attended by about 50 people, including 4 representatives from the media, the anti-shale gas action group from Kent County hosted a panel of speakers with a variety of expertise and experience.
“Impunity is the word we’re working with today,” said Anne Pohl, host of the press conference.
Pohl had, on July 19th, sent an open letter to New Brunswick Premier David Alward. The letter was at once an invitation to Alward to attend the press conference (neither he nor any member of his caucus attended) as well as a point by point description of the experienced hardships that those continuing to call for a moratorium on shale gas exploration in New Brunswick have experienced in their dealings with the RCMP, SWN Resources Canada as well as their elected government representatives.
If there was a continuous thread to the press conference, it was a general sense of frustration.
“We feel it is time for your government to stop directing the RCMP to harass us and to throw us in jail,” read the open letter to Premier Alward from the Upriver Environment Watch.
“It is time for your government to start talking with us. We have been trying to communicate with you for a long time. We have tried petitions, letters, requests for meetings, protests and everything else we could think of to get your attention. Your avoidance of us has been complete. We are extremely disappointed in your government’s failure to respond and acknowledge our concerns. We ask for you to respect and recognize the legitimacy of our concerns.“
Chris Sabas, one of two members of the Christian Peacemakers Team that has been invited to document the anti-shale actions by Elsipogtog War Chief John Levi, was the first presenter. Her information focused on her recent excursions visiting post-testing areas along ‘Line 5′, the backwoods seismic testing line that has for weeks now been the focus of SWN Resources Canada’s testing efforts.
Sabas’ had photographic evidence of unplugged ‘shot holes’, as well as disturbing photographs of animal tracks that she noted appeared in large numbers around post-explosion zones.
Willi Nolan, a long-time resident of Kent County, as well as a member of Upriver Environment Watch, focused her presentation on the dangers of the chemicals already being used in SWN’s exploration processes.
Nolan noted that while information was not readily available, SWN was most likely using a TNT explosive to detonate it’s shot holes. Having already detonated dozens of shot holes throughout the backwoods along ‘Line 5′, Nolan noted that there was no evidence of independent monitors looking after post-testing zones.
Celianne Cormier, another lifelong resident of Kent County, recounted her personal story of being bullied by SWN and Stantec Engineering when it came time for her water to be tested leading up to testing in 2011.
Cormier related a situation where it did not appear that Stantec, ostensibly a third party independent water testing company, was acting at an arm’s length from SWN, the company required to do the water testing. In fact, every time a “water tester” called the Cormier residence, she noted that they claimed to be calling on behalf of SWN. Cormier felt increasingly skeptical when water testers consistently refused to produce identification that they were in fact Stantec employees.
“Why were the callers introducing themselves as calling from SWN and why was SWN calling the shots if the testing was being done by an independent or third party?” asked Cormier. “I lost all confidence in the process, I felt violated and bullied because I felt I was not asking for anything special. In fact I felt I was only insisting on the world class safe ans secure practices as promised by our provincial government.”
Ann Pohl spoke about the difficulty of having the concerns of the citizens of New Brunswick properly heard and represented by a mainstream media almost completely controlled by the powerful Irving empire. Pohl noted that Irving, who stands to benefit from shale gas extraction in any number of ways; from trucking, to shipping, to processing, and on, was knowingly marginalizing the message of those opposed to shale gas extraction, often framing it as a ‘Native issue’.
After fielding questions from the media, the press conference then turned into an open forum, with various concerned citizens from around the province voicing their concerns about the increasingly obvious signs of industrial hostility, whether in disregard for the natural environment, complicity with law enforcement bodies, both public and private, and lack of concern from elected officials.
As if on cue, as one woman was describing the difficulties of trying to continue to live alongside a pot ash mine in Penobsquis, it became apparent that two undercover RCMP officers had been taking notes throughout the entire press conference. When asked what they were doing, constable Dave Matthews noted that he was taking notes on “the mood” of the press conference. When cameras were trained on the officers, they quickly fled the conference.
Rogersville heats up
It may well be that the blatant disrespect of laying seismic testing equipment immediately adjacent to a cemetery where family members and war veterans lie has begun to galvanize Rogersville’s Acadian population into action.
Today, only two days after the RCMP lied to activists attempting to park on parish land adjacent to their cemetery, telling those attempting to gather that it was private property, an emboldened crowd of about 60 Acadians, Anglophones and Indigenous people – united in their purpose – gathered in the pouring rain next to an active testing line.
Fearless of the potential danger of un-exploded ordinance, a number of people ventured southward down the active testing line, heading away from Pleasant Ridge Road towards Salmon River Road. With the constant hum of a helicopter transporting bagged geophones as a backdrop, activists wandered the freshly cut seismic line. Many noticed the presence of traditionally used medicinal plants growing directly next to un-detonated shot holes.
While most people exited the seismic test line by nightfall, as of press time an unknown number of individuals remain in the woods near the ordinance.
Media Co-op reporter Miles Howe has been released from police custody after being detained near Elsipogtog, New Brunswick yesterday afternoon – but Howe says he thinks police are trying to prevent him from reporting news from a controversial shale gas exploration site.
Howe has been in New Brunswick since early June reporting on protests against shale gas exploration near the Mi’kmaq community. He faces charges of uttering threats to a police officer and obstruction of justice.
“I think they’re trying to restrict my access to seismic testing sites,” said Howe.
According to Howe, RCMP chief Rick Bernard approached him this afternoon as he stood next to Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) news reporter Jorge Barrera. The two were waiting for press access to a site where seismic testing, a precursor to hydraulic fracturing or fracking, was said to be taking place.
Bernard then informed Howe that he was under arrest for allegedly uttering threats against a police officer on June 21st.
APTN’s Jorge Barrera tweeted that Bernard arrested Howe “after shaking Miles’ hand.”
The Media Co-op’s Howe “has been doing the bulk of reporting in #Elsipogtog on anti-shale gas protests and has been taken in by the Mi’kmaq community,” Barrera also tweeted.
RCMP Cpl. Chantal Farrah confirmed to CBC that Howe’s arrest was indeed related to an incident on June 21st. The RCMP has not responded to the Media Co-op’s request for comment as to why his arrest was not made for 13 days.
According to Howe, the timing of the arrest is odd, since he has been in contact with police in New Brunswick twice since the alleged June 21st incident without being notified that police wanted to arrest him.
In particular, Howe says he gave a statement to police regarding a fire he witnessedon June 25th, involving equipment owned by SWN, the Texas-based company currently exploring for shale gas in New Brunswick.
“Police went to my house in Halifax seeking a statement about the fire I had seen, since I was the first respondent [at the scene],” Howe said. “When I heard that I went to the police here and they took a statement from me about what I had seen. They knew exactly who I was, yet there was no indication that I was wanted by them for any incident on June 21st.
“After they took my statement, they also mentioned that they’d be able to offer me financial compensation for information [related to the ongoing protests],” Howe added.
Howe also notes that his charges changed over the several hours he was in custody, from resisting arrest to evading arrest to obstruction of justice. He had no comment on the charges themselves.
War chief John Levi also arrested
Howe expressed concern for Mi’kmaq war chief John Levi, who was also charged today with obstruction in relation to Howe’s own arrest.
“He’s basically been charged with abetting me [over the past several days],” Howe said, despite Levi not knowing until yesterday that Howe was accused of a crime.
Howe described the charges against Levi as “trumped-up.”
“They may be using me to get at him,” Howe said. “This is a dangerous situation for Levi, who’s been an important leader for the people here.”
Anti-Fracking protests continue
There is an open invitation to a “Celebration of Unity with Elsipogtog” gathering this Saturday at 10 a.m. by a Facebook group called Walk for a Ban on Fracking.
“In the end [my arrest today] is just one small incident,” Howe said. “People here continue to show amazing strength.
One week after 12 fracking protesters were arrested in New Brunswick, Mi’kmaq critics of the controversial extraction industry relit their sacred fire on the road to a seismic testing site and vowed to continue their opposition.
On June 19, fracking opponents held a sunrise ceremony beside a ceremonial fire they said was extinguished during the arrests, which included seven indigenous protestors, among them a pipe carrier and a ceremonial firekeeper. Another 12 people were arrested on Friday June 21, National Aboriginal Day.
“We’re not going to stop,” Amy Sock, a member of Elsipogtog First Nation, told Indian Country Today Media Network. “We don’t want shale gas to come to New Brunswick. To be honest, we have a big nuclear plant here. Once fracking goes on—once we start getting earthquakes—I’m afraid that thing is going to blow up. That’s one of my fears. Our priority is Mother Earth.”
Sock said that despite some tribal leaders’ support for shale gas exploration by SWN Resources Canada, which is preparing for seismic testing in Kent County, most Mi’kmaq are against the project. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a process in which high-pressure chemicals are injected deep underground to break apart the shale rock layer and pump oil out. Government studies in the U.S. and U.K. have concluded the process can cause earthquakes, but proponents argue that they are not significant or dangerous tremors. (Related: Fracking Suspected in Dallas-Area Earthquakes)
“I can cry, get mad, pray, forgive, and do my pipe ceremony to keep my strength and courage up,” Sock said, “but this is one tough battle. We live by the river… Our regular diet—fish, clams, eels, bass, salmon, and lobster—that’s what we eat. I want to continue eating that without getting sick [from pollution].”
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Corporal Chantal Farrah issued a statement following the first spate of arrests, saying that work crews had been blocked from the company’s operations.
“They were attempting to block the heavy equipment from traveling on the road,” she said. “Now the people who were doing so were breaking the law and they were informed that they were breaking the law and that they needed to move. They refused and 12 people were arrested, so of those people there were seven men and five women.”
The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) also issued a statement after the arrests, saying it supported band leaders who were working with government and industry for “responsible and sustainable natural resources development for the benefit of all in the province,” but did not mention the protests or arrests.
“We stand in full support of the New Brunswick First Nations leadership as they are asserting and protecting their rights on natural resource development for the future and betterment of their communities,” said National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo. “As stewards of the land, First Nations have a sacred duty to protect the lands, waters and vital resources bestowed upon them. It is our responsibility to fulfill the vision of our ancestors—a vision of shared prosperity and success for all our peoples. This requires supporting First Nation governments in driving their own economies and engaging meaningful business opportunities and partnerships, through the basic and standard principles of free, prior and informed consent. This is the road to productivity and prosperity for all of us.”
A warrior chief of Elsipogtog First Nation, John Levi, issued a call for support from other Natives.
“We’re fighting with SWN gas company, which is doing seismic testing here in New Brunswick,” he said. “We invite all the reserves to come support our cause, because if it comes to your province, we’ll be there, we’ll support you. We’re asking for your help now.”
Sock said that every day, non-Native supporters have come to the protest site with gifts of food and other supplies, and also brought in portable toilets. She said many residents in the region are farmers as concerned as First Nations about fracking’s impact on the environment.
On June 24, two SWN company shot-hole drillers involved in gas exploration were set ablaze. No charges have been laid in the arson. Several other pieces of SWN equipment were seized by gas opponents.