(YouTube video shows recent RCMP arrest of First Nations man as he drums on Hwy 126)
Tim Fontaine and Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
ELSIPOGTOG FIRST NATION — Unspecified “industrial equipment” was torched early Tuesday morning near the area of an ongoing anti-fracking protest in northern New Brunswick, says the RCMP, as tensions continue to rise as a result of ongoing police action against demonstrators there.
An RCMP spokeswoman said Tuesday afternoon that a “large piece of industrial equipment” was destroyed by fire in the early morning hours in an area near Bass River, NB.
The scene of the fire sits several kilometres from the site of an ongoing protest against fracking led by people from the Mi’kmaq community of Elsipogtog.
Over 30 people have been arrested, including elders and youth. Protestors have dug in to stop shale gas exploration work. Extracting operations would likely result in the use of hydraulic-fracturing, or fracking. The exploration work is being handled by SWN Resources Canada.
A controversial process, fracking involves injecting water, sand and chemicals into the ground to crack shale rock formations and draw trapped natural gas out. Opponents say this process can poison the water table.
Cpl. Chantal Farrah wouldn’t say what kind of equipment was burned or who owned it, saying only that it belonged to a company “that has been doing work in the area.”
Farrah said investigators have no suspects and wouldn’t say whether there was any link between the arson and ongoing protests in the area.
“I can’t tie that together,” said Farrah, who is based in Fredericton, the provincial capital which sits about 165 kilometres southwest of Elsipogtog. “We had various types of activity in that area.”
Farrah said before the equipment was torched RCMP officers were called to intervene when about 50 people surrounded security personnel working for the unspecified company. Farrah said two trucks belonging to the security personnel were taken to the RCMP station in Elsipogtog.
Protestors claimed they had seized equipment from the site including parts for drills and explosives used in seismic testing and turned it over the RCMP.
Farrah said the police force did not receive any of the equipment and investigators were not aware anything had been taken.
“Nothing like that was turned over,” she said.
At the protest camp, which is along Hwy 126, the atmosphere remained calm. A sacred fire continues to burn and supporters from across the country have begun to migrate to the area which has become a focal point for the stirring “Sovereignty Summer” movement headed by Idle No More and Defenders of the Land. The alliance issued a national call out Monday to support the ongoing protest.
The Kahnawake Warrior Society said it was monitoring the situation and in contact with people at the protest.
Katrina Clair, 26, from Elsipogtog First Nation, said there are no plans to end the protest until the exploration work stops.
“No negotiations, nothing, no is no and that’s it,” said Clair.
The mood, however, appears to be shifting as a result of continued RCMP actions against the protestors which included the arrests of women, elders and youth.
On Sunday, RCMP officers were pelted with beer bottles after arriving at a large outdoor party in Elsipogtog which was attended by about 100 people. One officer was taken to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries and the cruiser was vandalized.
Sgt. Dustin Ward, who has been based in the community for about a year, wouldn’t say whether the incident was connected to RCMP actions against the protestors, allowing only that the investigation would determine the link.
“I am sure there are people that are upset at the situation, but for us we are still going to calls and going about our business,” said Ward.
Ward said the detachment had no suspects connected to the incident.
While the protest has the support of the Elsiopogtog chief and council, senior First Nations leadership in the province condemned the continued action.
The Assembly of First Nations Chiefs in New Brunswick said economic development is urgently needed and accused the anti-fracking protestors of wanting to keep the Indigenous people in the area in poverty.
“We cannot agree with those who want to keep our people in poverty,” said a statement from the organization issued last week. “Or those from outside our communities who do not have to live with the consequences of their rhetoric.”
The statement under the title, NB Chiefs Take Strong Stand on Natural Resource Development in New Brunswick, called on the provincial government and industry to negotiate a deal with First Nations.
Darcy Gray, chief councillor for Listuguj First Nation, a Mi’kmaq community about 273 kilometres west of Elsiopogtog on the NB-Quebec border, said the position of the AFNCNB was disappointing.
“It is horrible, it sends a mixed message when we as First Nations people say we protect the environment above all else, but then you have the First Nations chiefs in New Brunswick saying we want a cut,” said Gray. “It’s just horrible. To say it’s a strong statement is just ridiculous.”
Gray said the stakes are high in the battle over fracking in New Brunswick.
“From our point of view in Listuguj this is ground zero for this fight between environment versus industry,” he said. “If they break it now, if they get the go-ahead for shale gas at this stage of the game and the chiefs don’t step up and do what’s right for mother earth, we’re all next. It’s just a matter of time.”