Six burned out police cars remain at the side of the road in Rexton, N.B. a reminder of the violence of Thursday's protest against a shale-gas project.
After a fairly quiet morning, without any police presence, native protesters began setting up barrier cones along the centre of the highway into Rexton to control traffic.
This was the stretch that was blocked Thursday and the scene of the conflict between police and First Nations protesters.
One supporter of the natives drove in from Fredericton Thursday night to bring water and other supplies. He wouldn't give his name -- but said this fight was about control over native lands.
As the protesters stand in the pouring rain, others have gone to the courthouse in Moncton to support their colleagues who were arrested in the clash Thursday and are to make an appearance today.
Sources say the number of sheriffs at the courthouse has been tripled.
The clash between the RCMP and the Elsipogtog First Nation, north of Moncton, began early Thursday morning when a large number of officers arrived at a compound where SWN Resources Canada stores equipment. The police intended to enforce an injunction against a native blockade that has prevented SWN, a natural gas and oil exploration company, from conducting seismic testing.
The protesters refused the demands to disperse, and the confrontation devolved into a melee of tear gas and rubber bullets. In the end, at least 40 people, including Elsipogtog Chief Arren Sock and several council members, had been arrested and five police cruisers had been set ablaze. The situation had calmed by early evening with news that Mr. Sock and some of the other protesters had been released.
A councillor with the Elsipogtog First Nation says a meeting is expected today with New Brunswick Premier David Alward to discuss what happened at the protest site near Rexton.
Robert Levi says Mr. Sock will probably meet with Mr. Alward this afternoon in Fredericton.
“But nobody is leaving,” said Susan Levi-Peters, a former chief. “We don’t want shale gas here. We have been asking for consultations for three years now and nothing has happened. Instead they just put our people in jail.”
“I’m worried about the water and the future of my children,” said a 17-year-old boy who said he’d been at the protest for two weeks and had been camping in the bush.
The Mi’kmaq of Elsipogtog have been staging demonstrations at the site throughout the summer, and there have been a number of previous arrests. The company obtained the court injunction earlier this month.
Although the compound is not on reserve land, it is on territory that the Mi’kmaq consider to be their traditional hunting ground, and they fear that SWN’s tests will lead to a fracking operation that will cause irreparable environmental damage to their community and the surrounding area.
The RCMP said it stepped in to enforce the injunction as a public safety measure. “There have been threats made to employees who were working with a private security firm at the site, as well as firearms offences, incidents of intimidation, mischief and other criminal behaviour,” Jullie Rogers-Marsh, an RCMP spokeswoman, said in a news release.
“The RCMP has worked diligently with all parties involved in hopes for a peaceful resolution,” Constable Rogers-Marsh said. “Those efforts have not been successful. Tensions were rising, and serious criminal acts are being committed.”
The arrests on Thursday were for various offences, including firearms infractions, uttering threats, intimidation, mischief, and refusing to abide by the court injunction. The police said at least one shot was fired, but not by them, and that the protesters were lobbing Molotov cocktails.
Rexton, N.B., near Elsipogtog, is just one of many places across Canada where indigenous people are demanding a say in resource exploration, extraction and transportation. Earlier this week, for instance, members of three British Columbia First Nations staged a protest against Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project.
Other First Nations erected roadblocks Thursday in support of the Elsipogtogs’ fight, and rallies were organized for Ottawa, Halifax, Vancouver and other cities under the native protest banner of Idle No More.
Shawn Atleo, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, wrote to Mr. Sock saying heavy-handed actions by the RCMP and the province are unacceptable.
“Today’s actions and numerous arrests, including members of the Chief and Council, are a direct affront to your efforts at reaching a diplomatic solution,” Mr. Atleo wrote. “Please know that we – and First Nations across the country – stand proudly in solidarity with you and your community.”
Representatives of SWN Resources did not return calls from The Globe and Mail on Thursday. Nor did officials from the office of Mr. Alward. Mr. Alward met recently with the Mi’’kmaq at Elsipogtog and agreed to set up a working group in an effort to resolve the tense situation.
Native leaders say it was the police who sparked the confrontation. They say police arrived with guns drawn and targeted elders with pepper spray. Ms. Levi-Peters said the police cars were set on fire after natives learned about the arrests.
“It’s Oka all over again and it’s sad because we said all we need is public consultation,” she said, referring to a 1990 dispute between Mohawks and the government at Oka, Que., that turned deadly. “It is really very volatile.”
With a file from The Canadian Press
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