Local First Nations support Elsipogtog protest
Mishkeegogamang’s Erin Bottle, far right, and a group of protestors walked across Thunder Bay on Oct. 21 after lighting a sacred fire on Mount McKay to feast the ancestors in support of the shale gas protestors at Elsipogtog in New Brunswick.
“We did an all nations unity march so that we could send Anishinabe power and help to the Mi’kmaq Nation with support of our ancestors,” Bottle said. “Today we are supporting the Mi’kmaq Nation and also reminding our Anishinabe here that we still have a lot of work to be done.”
First Nations across Ontario reacted with shock to the Oct. 17 Royal Canadian Mounted Police action at a shale gas protest site near Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick.
“We are shocked by yesterday’s developments and we pray for the safety of Chief Arren Sock, his community members and other land defenders who are at the site on Elsipogtog First Nation traditional lands,” said Regional Chief Stan Beardy.
RCMP arrested about 40 of the protestors, including Sock and number of band councillors, after moving in to the protest site early on the morning of Oct. 17 to enforce an injunction to end the blockade of a SWN Resources exploration equipment storage site. SWN had been conducting shale gas exploration work in the area.
“(New Brunswick) Premier (David) Alward must halt the exploration license granted to SWN Resources and discontinue issuing further exploration licenses to any further exploration companies without the free, prior and informed consent of First Nations,” Beardy said. “This has been the simple ask of First Nations throughout Canada for too many years.”
Beardy said letters were sent to SWN and RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson this past July stating the situation could be solved overnight if the province and SWN accepted the principle that the shale project could not go ahead without the free, prior and informed consent of Elsipogtog First Nation, but he only received a response from Paulson.
“It is past time now to call a halt to the physical exploration work and engage Elsipogtog First Nation in a respectful dialogue,” Beardy said. “In my view, this course is in the best interests of everyone and all concerned.”
The RCMP reported that a number of firearms, improvised explosive devices, ammunition, knives and bear spray were found at an encampment site used by some protestors.
“The weapons and explosives we seized show that this was no longer a peaceful protest and there was a serious threat to public safety,” said Assistant Commissioner Roger Brown. “We took the action necessary to address that threat.”
Brown said some people in the crowd threw rocks and bottles at the RCMP and sprayed them with bear spray.
“Setting police cars on fire created a dangerous situation for everyone in the area, and it was at that point that police were forced to physically confront some in the crowd who refused to obey the law,” Brown said.
Videos posted on the Internet showed RCMP officers spraying protestors, including women, with pepper spray, crawling on the ground in camouflage gear with rifles and bringing K9 dogs into the protest area.
The Halifax Media Co-op has reported that one Mi’kmaq warrior is in danger of losing his leg due to extensive internal bleeding after being shot at close range in the leg with a rubber bullet shotgun blast by the RCMP during the police action.
Six RCMP vehicles were set on fire during the police action and an attempt was made to burn the Elsipogtog First Nation RCMP office early in the morning of Oct. 18.
SWN’s request to extend the injunction to prevent anyone from impeding on its exploration activities was denied on Oct. 21 by Justice George Rideout after he heard arguments in the Court of Queen’s Bench on Oct. 18.
The protestors were calling for SWN to stop seismic testing in the area. Opponents of shale gas believe the hydraulic fracturing process used to extract shale gas can pollute drinking water.
Solidarity protests have been held across the country after the RCMP action, including a sacred fire that was set up at the intersection of Hwy. 17 and Hwy. 673 near Iskatewizaagegan Independent First Nation (Shoal Lake #39).
“Our nation finds it amazing that only two days after the visit of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to investigate conditions in Canada, that Canada’s federal police force will resort to such armed violence against our relatives,” said Iskatewizaagegan Chief Eli Mandamin. “Our fire stands as a beacon of support for the Mi’kmaq Nation, and all other indigenous nations that stand to defend their rights, and to act as a symbol of protection for our eastern relatives from further violence from the RCMP.”
Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said the federal government is setting the wrong tone with First Nations.
“We are shocked by today’s developments and we pray for the safety of Chief Arren Sock and his community members,” Fiddler said. “We do not yet know all of the details surrounding today’s events, but the fact that this First Nation’s concerns over shale gas development has elevated into a violent engagement with police clearly demonstrates that the Harper government is failing miserably in its approach to First Nations.”
Fiddler also questioned statements in the federal government’s recent Speech from the Throne that said Canada was an “empty land” before the arrival of settlers and that a country was forged “where none would have otherwise existed.”
“Today’s violent actions and the paternalistic tone of the throne speech are further examples of the relentless attacks by the Harper government, either directly or indirectly, against First Nations,” Fiddler said. “NAN First Nations are growing increasingly frustrated by the federal government’s disregard for our history, culture, treaty and inherent rights and its continued failure to engage with First Nations in a respectful, nation-to-nation basis.”
National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo said the results of the RCMP action are deeply disturbing and unacceptable in an Oct. 17 letter to Alward.
“The actions of police this morning have been completely unacceptable and are an extreme use of state force and control over First Nation citizens and territories,” Atleo said in the letter. “In June 2013, Chief Arren Sock called for a moratorium on shale gas exploration and development to allow for engagement and consultation. I call upon you to take all actions to immediately cease this intervention and restore dialogue with leadership. The safety and security of our citizens is our foremost concern at the time, including children, women and the elderly that have found themselves on the front lines of this conflict.”
Atleo said the AFN is working closely with leaders from the community and regional First Nations to support them in their efforts to resolve the situation and to restore the safety and security of their citizens who are protecting their lands and their rights.
“We have reached out to First Nations and international human rights experts seeking support for this situation,” Atleo said.” We will continue to assemble a team of volunteers who will be ready to assist and support efforts aimed at resolving the situation as well as ensuring that Canada, the province, industry and the RCMP understand that reconciliation requires respect and understanding of our people and our rights. We must seize this moment to create positive action.”
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