Montreal Shows Solidarity with Elsipogtog

Protests Arise After Violent Arrest at N.B. Blockade Site

A group of native rights activists gathered on Thursday, Oct. 17 in a rally in solidarity with East Coast Mi’kmaq seeking to halt shell gas extraction by fracking. Photo Andrew Brennan
East Coast Mi’kmaq were arrested by RCMP officers in an operation involving rubber bullets and tear gas, prompting the Montreal protest Photo Andrew Brennan

Two days of spontaneous demonstrations emerged last week in downtown Montreal, protesting the tactics allegedly leveled by RCMP officers against members of the Elsipogtog nation blockading a highway outside Rexton, New Brunswick.

On Thursday, Oct. 17, about 60 RCMP officers clad in riot gear and holding sniper rifles broke the lines of the blockade, arresting about 40 people. Reports from the Media Co-op and the Aboriginal People’s Television Network attest smoke bombs were thrown and rubber bullets fired during the altercation. Six police cruisers were set ablaze by protesters.

The blockade had trapped exploration vehicles belonging to an American oil company seeking to conduct tests in the area for shale gas deposits.

At least 150 people in Montreal descended on Cabot Square that night in response, with that number almost doubling at the following protest on Friday. Other protests were also staged on Thursday in Calgary, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Iqaluit and Whitehorse.

Speaking in front of the RCMP Montreal headquarters in Westmount on Thursday, an Ojibway protester who wished to be identified as “Amy” told the assembled crowd the Mi’kmaq have a right to be concerned by the extraction of gas through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which they believe will lead to irreparable environmental damage to their traditional land.

“They have taken up a stance against this fracking company because they don’t want to turn on their water and have it burn,” she said.

“They have no choice but to resist this fracking. That’s their traditional territory, that’s their land, and those fracking companies have no right to go in there.”

The Mi’kmaq of Elsipogtog have staged previous blockades and demonstrations over the summer in an attempt to halt the seismic test of SWN Resources Canada, a Houston-based mining company. The Elsipogtog, including nation chief Arren Sock, who the CBC reported was arrested at the blockade site on Thursday, say they are concerned the discovery of shale gas deposits will destroy their traditional lands and its water through extraction via fracking.

“They have no choice but to resist this fracking. That’s their traditional territory, that’s their land, and those fracking companies have no right to go in there.”
-Ojibway protester, “Amy”

While the testing site is not situated on reserve land, the Mi’kmaq of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, including the Elsipogtog, have never relinquished their authority to lands to the Crown. A Peace and Friendship Treaty was enacted in 1761.

Members of the Rexton blockade also say the land being investigated by SWN is traditional native hunting grounds. The RCMP first blocked the provincial highway 134 near Rexton Sept. 29 to halt future demonstrations by the Mi’kmaq. The Elsipogtog created their own roadblock on the inside of the RCMP’s two-sided impasse the next day, felling trees and igniting a fire in the middle of the road near its intersection with highway 11.

Protesters were served with their first injunction Oct. 2, which was valid until Oct. 12.

Concordia student and Green Party of Quebec leader Alex Tyrrell visited New Brunswick and says he spoke with many First Nations concerned with fracking.

He told The Link the Mi’kmaq should not be attacked for standing up to preserve their land.

“These people are the first people in Canada to take direct action against hydraulic fracturing, and I think that given what took place today with the RCMP and the escalation of tensions it was important to come out and show solidarity with the Mi’kmaq of Elsipogtog who are resisting shale gas [extraction] in New Brunswick,” he said Thursday.

Tyrrell added that he was happy with the turnout at the Oct. 17 rally, which he says grew organically in response to footage and accounts emerging in the news and online surrounding the RCMP’s alleged enforcement of the injunction.

On Monday, a Court of Queen’s Bench judge chose not to renew the SWN injunction against the blockade site. Chief Sock and other members of the Elsipogtog nation say they will continue to fight against any proposed fracking in the region.