Elsipogtog hopes for healing, braces for treaty fight
“All these bruises,” Amy Sock recalls her retired RCMP father lamenting, “and you can’t even walk.”
With those words, the Elsipogtog First Nation anti-fracking blockader said her dad wept as he vowed to burn his Red Serge uniform upon her release from police custody.
Sock’s arrest was part of the massive Oct. 17 standoff that saw hundreds of RCMP officers swarm the blockade camp at Rexton, guns drawn, to enforce a company injunction and help it recover its equipment. Elders were pepper-sprayed, police cars torched, and 40 arrested.
On Dec. 6, SWN Resources announced it was halting its shale gas exploration for the year, incomplete. Now, as the community awaits the Texan firm’s likely future return, Windspeaker has learned the community is launching healing circles to deal with the trauma of the police raid, as well as contemplating a court battle over their treaty rights.
“I looked at him and said, ‘Dad, please don’t do that,’” Sock said.
“When it’s your turn to leave this world, that’s what you’re going to be wearing ... This fight is not against the RCMP or against the SWN workers. (It’s) with the actual company.”
Mostly, Sock revealed, New Brunswick’s largest Indigenous community is “trying to heal” from the police raid, as blockaders continue to face the courts and support pours in from across the continent. As reported by Windspeaker, Sock was among the first arrested on Oct. 17.
“We went through a lot. It was very traumatizing for everyone,” she said. “It’s something our people will never forget.
“It affected everybody, and it’s still affecting a lot of people. Mental health workers are planning talking circles for our community, so people can let out a bit about what happened. We realized our people need to start healing.”
The standoff over potential hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on Mi’kmaki traditional territories has even drawn the attention of the Qatar-based global news network Al Jazeera, which aired a lengthy documentary on the conflict in December, as well as support from American anti-chemical crusader Erin Brokovitch.
As solidarity protests and fundraisers across the country continue to send support to the community’s efforts, activists say resources are needed for the ongoing court hearings of land defenders arrested in the course of the struggle since May.
One of those arrested in October, Mi’kmaq Warrior Society’s James Pictou, was finally released from prison on Dec. 17 after pleading guilty to assault with bear spray, threatening officers and a dog, mischief and obstruction. He was fined $4,500, and sentenced to two years of probation and nine months of house arrest. Other Mi’kmaq Warrior Society land defenders involved in the blockade face similar charges.
“We’ve got to beat them somehow,” said Warrior Chief John Levi, who himself faces several counts stemming from October. “Right now that’s in court.
“We’re going to be at this for a while. We’ve been raising money for that purpose all along. We’re not going to leave anybody behind.”
But as blockaders continue to face trial in relation to their anti-fracking efforts, Levi said the hope is to turn the tables and take the government itself to court “using our treaty rights,” he said, “and we’ll beat them.”
Asked about SWN’s announcement it was halting operations for the year, Levi chuckled and said, “Getting a break at least gives us some time to do our Christmas shopping.”
Sock agreed that it was a much-needed reprieve after eight months of fighting the company with hardly any media attention for months other than from independent media, such as Windspeaker, APTN and the Media Co-op.
“What I’m happy about mostly is that they didn’t complete their testing,” Sock said. “I don’t know why that makes me feel victorious, because it only means they’re going to come back and finish it up.
“My guess is that, whatever they’re looking for underneath, we have it. As soon as they come back, I don’t think we’re going to let them even begin ... We may have won a little battle, but we haven’t won the war.”
Ultimately, Sock and Levi agreed, the community will not let SWN get a foothold again in their community if it attempts a return.
“We don’t want no fracking,” Levi said. “We are going to put a stop to this regardless of the cost.
“Regardless of what they do to us, we’re still going to keep fighting. It’s life or death for our future generations. We’ve got to protect our land and water.”
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