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Demonstration supports anti-fracking movement on indigenous grounds

Photos by Sabrina Nemis

As the movement to oppose shale fracking on indigenous land in New Brunswick became heated, crowds in Ottawa gathered on Parliament Hill on Oct. 17–18 to show support for protestors out east.

The protest began Sept. 30 between Rexton, N.B. and Highway 11 with a blockade preventing the American shale mining exploration company SWN Resources from accessing a staging area used to store exploration vehicles and equipment.

While the exploration is not happening on reserve land, it is on traditional hunting grounds of the Mi’kmaq Elsipogtog First Nation. Both indigenous and non-indigenous protestors from across the province have been participating due to concerns about the long-term environmental impacts of shale gas fracking.

The process involves drilling wells into shale, then pumping water and chemicals into the wells to extract natural gas. Afterward, the chemicals remain in the rock and many are concerned that they will seep into nearby wells and community drinking water sources, contaminating them permanently.

On the morning of Thursday, Oct. 17, RCMP officers arrived to enforce an injunction to end the blockade. The protestors refused to leave; videos and photos on social media websites show the protestors being tear gassed and shot with sock rounds.

By Thursday evening, six police vehicles were set on fire and 40 people were arrested, including Elsipogtog chief Aaron Sock and several council members. On Friday, 31 people were released with future court dates and the RCMP seized weapons from the protest site, including guns and explosives.

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People gathered in cities across the country, including Ottawa, on Oct. 18  to show their support for the protestors, many assembling under the native protest banner Idle No More.

“It’s with a heavy heart that I’m here tonight,” said Nicole Desnoyers, vp equity for the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa. “It’s been a very long day of just connecting with all of my friends, making sure that people’s families are safe.”

Claudette Commanda, an aboriginal studies and First Nations women’s studies professor at the University of Ottawa, said the events out east are a “tragedy.”

“This is a prime example of colonial violence. The Mi’kmaq people in Elsipogtog, all they were doing is defending their rights, defending human life,” said Commanda.

“For the last 500-something years, we’ve been a very peaceful, loving people … and where’s it gotten us?” she said. “I don’t believe in turning the other cheek because all they’re going to do is kick us in the ass, and that’s going to stop now.”

While the protest on Parliament Hill remained peaceful, with about 200 people gathered to speak, drum, and participate in round dances, there was anger over the way some media sources chose to portray the conflict.

“There are injuries on both sides, but to completely paint it as just the indigenous protestors and activists, [that] they’re the ones who are at fault and trying to justify the violence in that way, is absolutely disgusting,” said Desnoyers. “I’ve been disappointed in mainstream media in both English and French giving this kind of news coverage.”

Commanda and Desnoyers urged students to make efforts to learn more about First Nations land issues and the environmental impacts of shale mining exploration.

The Facebook page for the rally indicates it will continue Oct. 19.