First Nations group trying to calm shale gas tensions
ELSIPOGTOG FIRST NATION, N.B. -- A First Nations community in New Brunswick has formed what it's describing as a peacekeeping group in an effort to ensure an ongoing protest against shale gas exploration is safe.
"There have been growing tensions in recent days and the possibility for violence has escalated," Chief Arren Sock of Elsipogtog said Thursday.
Area residents are staging protests as SWN Resources conducts seismic testing near their community, north of Moncton.
The RCMP say there have been 33 arrests so far this month as a result of people blocking roads and vehicles.
"Arrests have included women, youth and our traditional leaders, and that only tells you that my people will do anything to protect Mother Earth," Sock said.
Police have also responded to reports of damage to property and equipment.
RCMP Cpl. Chantal Farrah said some equipment and a personal vehicle were damaged on Sunday when a group of people confronted a work crew along Route 490 near Fords Mills.
"That was a tense situation for that work crew and we are looking into that incident," she said.
Later that night, police returned to the same area where at least nine trees had been cut down to block the road.
"Maybe if the RCMP had not found those trees blocking that road somebody could have gotten seriously injured by running into them," she said. "They were not well-lit areas and they posed a real hazard."
Wendall Nicholas of Tobique has been assigned as a peacekeeper and will serve as the point man between police, protesters and the community.
"As the issues develop, as they will very rapidly, rather than trying to contact four or five different people to find what is going on, they will be contacting me and then I'll reach out to the community leaders to determine the best course of action very quickly," Nicholas said.
"We have every opportunity here to allow peaceful demonstration and, whatever outcome happens here, the safety of individuals is foremost."
Sock said SWN is taking a four-day break from its work and he's trying to organize a meeting with the company and the provincial government.
A spokesman for the Energy Department could not confirm if a meeting was being scheduled and officials from SWN could not be reached for comment.
People in the community say they fear gas wells would destroy water supplies and they won't back down from what they say is their responsibility to protect the environment.
Opponents of shale gas exploration are against the practice of fracking, which uses large volumes of water and chemicals to fracture layers of rock to release trapped gas.
They say fracking will compromise groundwater, but the industry disputes that assertion.
Elsipogtog resident Susan Levi-Peters, who has run as a New Democrat in recent federal and provincial elections, said she blames Premier David Alward for allowing gas exploration to proceed.
"He's bringing chemicals and everything in here to ruin our land and water," she said. "Of course we're going to fight tooth and nail because after we lose that we don't have anything else."
Sock said some of the arrests happened on National Aboriginal Day and he calls that a "slap in the face" to people in his community.
He said some people don't understand their culture and a number of the arrests occurred as people were drumming or conducting other traditional activities.
Sock said people need to be able to carry out their traditions and demonstrate peacefully.
"I wish to express my continued concern for the safety of our people and all those involved in the peaceful demonstrations, to continue to support these demonstrations, and to continue to say no to shale gas," he said.