HMC: Prelude to the Raid: Interview with Warrior Society District chief suggests Irving-owned security, RCMP, engaged in pre-October 17th charge trumping

SOURCE: http://halifax.mediacoop.ca/story/prelude-raid/19596

Prelude to the Raid

Interview with Warrior Society District chief suggests Irving-owned security, RCMP, engaged in pre-October 17th charge trumping.

by Miles Howe

Why did this Industrial Security Limited employee approach a sacred fire, while armed, on October 15th? [Photo: Miles Howe]
Why did this Industrial Security Limited employee approach a sacred fire, while armed, on October 15th? [Photo: Miles Howe]

REXTON, NEW BRUNSWICK – The dominant police-fuelled discourse circulating is that on October 17th, the police were forced to raid an armed camp of anti-shale gas protestors along highway 134, near Rexton, New Brunswick.

Adding fuel to this narrative is the fact that the police have laid several charges, ranging from threats to assault to unlawful confinement, in relation to events that they claim occurred on October 15th and 16th.

The end result is a story in which the RCMP, despite drawing in Emergency Response Teams from Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and New Brunswick; despite raiding an until-then peaceful encampment with guns drawn in the pre-dawn on the 17th; despite firing numerous rounds of less-lethal ammunition into unarmed people at point blank range; and despite spraying men and women with pepper spray, were simply de-escalating a tense situation.

However, an interview with Signigtog District War Chief Jason Augustine – himself present at the encampment since it’s inception, and now facing numerous charges – begins to peel back the layers of the RCMP’s imagery, and presents a very different recounting of events that occurred over October 15th and 16th.

It’s a story that shows a clear attempt by Irving-owned Industrial Security Limited to taunt and bait members of the Warriors Society on October 15th and 16th – in some cases going directly against already-negotiated agreements that existed between the Mi’kmaq Warriors Society and the RCMP – in order to create a fiction in which the Warriors could be later charged with a variety of accusations that supposedly occurred on those two days.

It’s also a story that shows the RCMP negotiating in extremely poor faith..

Since late September, 2013, Irving-owned Industrial Security Limited was the main security unit patrolling the fenced-in compound where SWN Resources Canada’s equipment was being held along highway 134. Generally, and for the duration of the life of the encampment, there were between about four and ten security guards patrolling the fenced-in area.

The fenced-in compound had one main gate, at the corner closest to the access road to highway 134. But the fence around the compound itself was not a permanent structure, and pieces could quickly be latched and unlatched, creating make-shift gates at any desired point.

Indeed, because the one main gate opened onto the 134 access road, which had become one of the main traffic points of the encampment, Augustine notes that the Warrior Society and the RCMP had earlier negotiated that ISL shift changes would take place via an already-built back road that opened onto an off-ramp of highway 11.

ISL guards would leave the fenced-in compound at the extreme opposite corner of the compound, about 200 meters from the main gate, through a make-shift gate. This was a scenario that had been taking place in good faith for numerous days prior to October 15th.

“We had already set a negotiation [regarding] the backside [of the compound]”, says Augustine. “We made them a road where [ISL workers] could go in and back out. And each time the shift change started there were always two Warriors and four RCMPs [to escort the workers]. We negotiated that with Denise Vautour and Marc Robichaud (two of the RCMP’s negotiators). We negotiated that and we all said ‘That’s pretty good, we’re in a working [compromise] right now.’”

Yet on October 15th, in a situation that Augustine cannot remember happening during the duration of the encampment, an ISL security guard, later identified as former New Brunswick Highway Patrolman Gary Flieger, opened the front gate of the fenced-in compound and began wandering around an area of the encampment where a sacred fire had been lit.

He had crossed a line of cedar that had been placed on the gravel road in front of the sacred fire, and was standing – armed, according to Augustine – in front of the fire. This was where Coady Stevens, another member of the Warriors Society, found Flieger.

It is of particular importance to note that – according to Augustine – the Warrior Society and the RCMP had even negotiated for the possibility that an ISL security guard would want to come and pray at the sacred fire. The guards could come and pray any time they wanted, but neither they, nor anyone else, was permitted to bring weapons of any kind to the sacred fire.

“[ISL] already knew,” says Augustine. “When we negotiated the first time, when an ISL worker comes out to the sacred fire – because they were welcome, anytime they were welcome – as long as they don’t have any weapons. [But] they could come and pray with us anytime they want. And that was part of the negotiations. They could come out at any time and pray with us, or go out the back way and shift change then.”

Augustine describes a brief altercation that then took place, one that he suggests Flieger took to a physical level. But for one quick push of Flieger, and for escorting Flieger back through the front gate of the fenced-in compound, Coady Stevens – who remains incarcerated and who was denied bail – faces charges of assault, threats and unlawful confinement. All these charges are, of course, pre-October 17th.

Lost in the dominant narrative is why Flieger left the front gate of the compound on the morning of the 15th and wandered, armed, to a sacred fire. Lost also is how, with an already-built back gate that was frequently used, any of this constitutes unlawful confnement.

There was no shift change taking place at the time. Indeed shift changes took place at the exact other end of the fenced-in compound. If Flieger wanted to pray at the sacred fire, not something he had done during any of his other shifts, Augustine suggests that he was welcome to do so – provided he approached the fire unarmed.

This is especially problematic if, as Augustine suggests, RCMP negotiators Denise Vautour and Marc Robichaud had already negotiated these terms in good faith with the Warriors.

Augustine notes that on the evening of the 15th, RCMP negotiator Denise Vautour again texted him, asking about the altercation that had happened.

“On the night of the 15th I got a text from Denise [Vautour] saying ‘What’s going on down there? How come a Warrior is pushing ISL?’” says Augustine. “Right off the bat we told them ‘Hold it. ISL came out to the sacred fire with his weapon out. Remember when we negotiated that they’re not supposed to have weapons around the sacred fire.’ She said ‘OK, we didn’t know that.’ Then she asked if we could meet. I said ‘Yes, we’ve got to meet and talk about this and resolve this as quick as possible, in a peaceful way’…That night we all agreed that: ‘Yes, everything is peaceful again. Let’s keep it that way.’”

The morning of the 16th, apparently, was out of the ordinary as well. Augustine notes that ISL staff was being especially belligerent to the Warriors who were stationed at the fence.

“When I came out I told [ISL]: ‘Whoa guys you have to be peaceful,’” says Augustine. “This was from the RCMP. I told them right of the bat that we’d been negotiating all this time for peace, and that you guys have to cooperate with us.”

Several Warriors have been charged with threats related to the 16th of October. It is assumed that these charges are related to this series of verbal altercations.

Augustine notes that the Warriors had also already negotiated with the RCMP in order to create a neutral ‘no-go’ zone around the fenced-in compound, in order that ISL security working within the fenced-in compound would not be verbally harassed by over-exuberant activists.

“It was always a concern for their safety too,” says Augustine. “We wanted them safe, because we knew that they were only there for their jobs.

“That morning, when things were escalating, right off the bat we went to Denise [Vautour] and Marc [Robichaud] and said ‘You’ve got to help us. These guys are not being peaceful. You guys have got to help us bring in the RCMP instead of ISL.’”

Mid-morning of the 16th, another meeting was held between the Warriors Society and the RCMP. In effect, what was being negotiated was a replacement of ISL security – which over the last two days had begun to act in an aggressive manner – with an RCMP contingent that would either remain in the fenced-in compound or patrol the ‘no-go’ zone – and monitor SWN’s equipment. In the interim, Augustine notes that he asked for the Warriors to vacate the ‘no-go’ zone to de-escalate the situation.

According to Augustine, after analyzing the situation, RCMP negotiators Vautour and Robichaud came to a similar conclusion as the Warriors: It was ISL security who was escalating the situation, not the Warriors.

“Denise [Vautour] and Marc [Robichaud] came along and said: ‘Jason, the RCMP are coming now, they’re going to take [ISL] out for you. We finally realized that they’re the problem too.’ So they were taken out right away.”

Augustine notes that the security duty exchange between ISL and RCMP took place between 3 and 4pm.

By the night of the 16th, Aboriginal RCMP negotiators had been brought in, supposedly in an attempt to calm the situation. Augustine again notes that these new negotiators, a constable ‘Fraser’ from Saskatchewan and a constable Walter Denny from Nova Scotia, confirmed with him that it was ISL security who was acting in a provocative and aggressive manner.

“Fraser and Denny] said: ‘These guys were very disrespectful, and on your guys’ part, you guys were just here trying to keep the peace,” says Augustine. “'[ISL] was so disrespectful that they were even disrespectful to us, because we were Natives.’”

With RCMP officers now replacing the “disrespectful” ISL security force, Augustine notes that the Aboriginal RCMP negotiators made further attempts to court peace with the Warriors.

“That night, around 10pm, constable Fraser and constable Denny came up to us. They wrapped tobacco in red felt and told us: ‘From now on it’s going to be peaceful.’ And they handed me the tobacco,” says Augustine. “They handed it right to me and said: ‘This is for peace. We understand that you guys only want peace. So everything’s going to be peaceful now. Negotiations have to start now.’

“We took the tobacco, me and Jim [Pictou]. We all shook hands. And we gave them tobacco too. I took tobacco out of my cigarette pack, broke it, and gave one to Walter [Denny] and one to Fraser and I told them ‘Yes, it’s now peaceful now.’ I took the tobacco back to our sacred bag. We had a bag full of a lot of our sacred stuff; sweet grass, sage, buffalo sage and all the medicines that we have there. And they left.”

Having successfully negotiated for the removal of the ISL security team, to be replaced by a patrol of RCMP officers, and having been given tobacco by two Aboriginal negotiators who allegedly confirmed the disrespectful nature of the Irving-owned employees, Augustine notes that the rest of the evening of the 16th, up until the morning of the 17th, was entirely uneventful.

The raid of the 17th , in which dozens of RCMP officers surrounded the Warriors encampment with a variety of weaponry already drawn, was a surprise to Augustine, both in terms of the amount of armaments, but more importantly in terms of the RCMP’s intent of the night before.

“That morning when I woke up to do my traffic control, I started about 6:30,” says Augustine. “I got my coffee ready and I didn’t even start drinking my coffee when the RCMP came out with guns drawn on us. The night before was peaceful. Even the RCMP was kind of happy that it was peaceful now. Nobody was escalating. Everybody was laughing. Everybody was drumming. Even the RCMP would drive by and wave to us. They knew it was peaceful.

“But all of a sudden that October 17th morning…Holy. All of a sudden they came up with guns drawn…Where’s that peace?”

When analyzing the potential of ISL – and their Irving paymasters – knowingly crafting a scenario involving trumped up charges against members of the Warriors Society, all the while working in collusion with the RCMP – and their Crown paymasters – it is also important to remember that a public hearing against SWN’s injunction against protestors was set for the morning of October 18th in Moncton.

The injunction named all of New Brunswick – under John and Jane Doe – as being potentially on the legal hook for inhibiting SWN’s access to it’s seismic testing equipment. Pre-18th legal opinions put forward on social media sites suggested that the injunction didn’t have a legal leg to stand on – indeed the injunction was subsequently overturned – but it did serve the purpose of intimidating activists concerned about their own estates from attending the encampment.

The 18th, and the potential of the public hearing overturning the injunction, presented a situation that may well have seen a surgin renewal of people at the highway 134 encampment. Crafting a narrative to negate that potential through strange actions, including having ISL guards leaving a front gate not used for shift changes and approaching a sacred fire while armed, and taunting Warriors who had made a habit of not only peacefully escorting ISL security during shift changes, but feeding the guards with home-cooked meals, resulted in a series of pre-raid charges.

Just the narrative needed for a pre-18th raid.

With these charges in their back pocket, the RCMP was free to create an ‘escalating tension’ scenario that they could then feed to a mainstream press. Coupled with the photogenic imagery of burning police cars and a press conference with a table full of armaments – neither of which can be yet, if ever, attributed to members of the Warriors Society – and the justification for the pre-dawn raid was set.

According to Augustine, from one side of their mouths RCMP negotiators spoke of peace, offered gifts and agreed that it was ISL security who was the incendiary side of the equation. All the while, however, a series of pre-raid charges, which still hang over numerous members of the Warriors Society, was being levied against them.

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HMC: Gone for the summer – SWN Resources Canada folds ’til September

Gone for the summer – SWN Resources Canada folds ’til September

Shale gas company allowed to detonate 11 more un-exploded shot holes – charges against 25 of 35 will be dropped.

by Miles Howe

» Download file ‘johnlevi.mp3’ (3.4MB)

Eslipogtog War Chief John Levi. [Photo: Miles Howe]
Eslipogtog War Chief John Levi. [Photo: Miles Howe]

ELSIPOGTOG, NEW BRUNSWICK – Minutes ago, afternoon negotiations between the RCMP, Elsipogtog Chief Arren Sock, Elsipogtog War Chief John Levi, former Elsipogtog Chief Susan Levi-Peters, Mi’kmaq Warrior Society Chief ‘Seven’ and others concluded with a few key announcements.

  • SWN Resources Canada will be permitted to detonate 11 un-exploded shot-holes along ‘Line 5’, the backwoods seismic testing line west of highway 126 that the company is currently attempting to test for shale gas. A team of observers from Elsipogtog First Nation, which will include 8 scouts, 3 Grandmothers and 2 Elsipogtog Peacekeepers will be tasked with observing the completion of SWN’s work. No more testing will be allowed for these remaining 11 shot holes.
  • Charges laid against 25 of the 35 arrested in the protests against SWN’s seismic testing will be dropped, pending an unmolested completion of SWN’s detonation work. This work is expected to be completed by Friday, August 2nd.
  • People who have already entered the court system will not have their charges dropped. These include Elsipogtog War Chief John Levi and activist Susanne Patles, as well as others.
  • SWN is expected to return to seismic test in Kent County in mid-September. It will then focus it’s efforts on lines ‘3’ and ‘4’. These seismic test lines are far closer to Elsipogtog First Nation, in some instances bordering the community by only a few kilometers. SWN’s earlier attempts to seismic test these lines resulted in significant equipment destruction.
Please enjoy the following interview with Elsipogtog War Chief John Levi.

HMC: Undercover RCMP crash anti-shale gas press conference, activists remain in woods on ‘Line 5’

SOURCE: http://halifax.mediacoop.ca/story/undercover-rcmp-crash-anti-shale-gas-press-confere/18362

Undercover RCMP crash anti-shale gas press conference, activists remain in woods on ‘Line 5’

Nightfall finds unknown number of activists still in woods along SWN’s woodland testing line.

by Miles Howe

By now a familiar site. Police and security together bar entrance to SWN's seismic testing lines. [Photo: M. Howe]
By now a familiar site. Police and security together bar entrance to SWN’s seismic testing lines. [Photo: M. Howe]

See also:

DIEPPE, NEW BRUNSWICK – Yesterday, Upriver Environment Watch called a press conference at the Super 8 motel in Dieppe, New Brunswick. Attended by about 50 people, including 4 representatives from the media, the anti-shale gas action group from Kent County hosted a panel of speakers with a variety of expertise and experience.
“Impunity is the word we’re working with today,” said Anne Pohl, host of the press conference.
Pohl had, on July 19th, sent an open letter to New Brunswick Premier David Alward. The letter was at once an invitation to Alward to attend the press conference (neither he nor any member of his caucus attended) as well as a point by point description of the experienced hardships that those continuing to call for a moratorium on shale gas exploration in New Brunswick have experienced in their dealings with the RCMP, SWN Resources Canada as well as their elected government representatives.
If there was a continuous thread to the press conference, it was a general sense of frustration.
“We feel it is time for your government to stop directing the RCMP to harass us and to throw us in jail,” read the open letter to Premier Alward from the Upriver Environment Watch.
“It is time for your government to start talking with us. We have been trying to communicate with you for a long time. We have tried petitions, letters, requests for meetings, protests and everything else we could think of to get your attention. Your avoidance of us has been complete. We are extremely disappointed in your government’s failure to respond and acknowledge our concerns. We ask for you to respect and recognize the legitimacy of our concerns.
Chris Sabas, one of two members of the Christian Peacemakers Team that has been invited to document the anti-shale actions by Elsipogtog War Chief John Levi, was the first presenter. Her information focused on her recent excursions visiting post-testing areas along ‘Line 5’, the backwoods seismic testing line that has for weeks now been the focus of SWN Resources Canada’s testing efforts.
Sabas’ had photographic evidence of unplugged ‘shot holes’, as well as disturbing photographs of animal tracks that she noted appeared in large numbers around post-explosion zones.
Willi Nolan, a long-time resident of Kent County, as well as a member of Upriver Environment Watch, focused her presentation on the dangers of the chemicals already being used in SWN’s exploration processes.
Nolan noted that while information was not readily available, SWN was most likely using a TNT explosive to detonate it’s shot holes. Having already detonated dozens of shot holes throughout the backwoods along ‘Line 5’, Nolan noted that there was no evidence of independent monitors looking after post-testing zones.
Celianne Cormier, another lifelong resident of Kent County, recounted her personal story of being bullied by SWN and Stantec Engineering when it came time for her water to be tested leading up to testing in 2011.
Cormier related a situation where it did not appear that Stantec, ostensibly a third party independent water testing company, was acting at an arm’s length from SWN, the company required to do the water testing. In fact, every time a “water tester” called the Cormier residence, she noted that they claimed to be calling on behalf of SWN. Cormier felt increasingly skeptical when water testers consistently refused to produce identification that they were in fact Stantec employees.
“Why were the callers introducing themselves as calling from SWN and why was SWN calling the shots if the testing was being done by an independent or third party?” asked Cormier. “I lost all confidence in the process, I felt violated and bullied because I felt I was not asking for anything special. In fact I felt I was only insisting on the world class safe ans secure practices as promised by our provincial government.”
Ann Pohl spoke about the difficulty of having the concerns of the citizens of New Brunswick properly heard and represented by a mainstream media almost completely controlled by the powerful Irving empire. Pohl noted that Irving, who stands to benefit from shale gas extraction  in any number of ways; from trucking, to shipping, to processing, and on, was knowingly marginalizing the message of those opposed to shale gas extraction, often framing it as a ‘Native issue’.
After fielding questions from the media, the press conference then turned into an open forum, with various concerned citizens from around the province voicing their concerns about the increasingly obvious signs of industrial hostility, whether in disregard for the natural environment, complicity with law enforcement bodies, both public and private, and lack of concern from elected officials.
As if on cue, as one woman was describing the difficulties of trying to continue to live alongside a pot ash mine in Penobsquis, it became apparent that two undercover RCMP officers had been taking notes throughout the entire press conference. When asked what they were doing, constable Dave Matthews noted that he was taking notes on “the mood” of the press conference. When cameras were trained on the officers, they quickly fled the conference.
Rogersville heats up
It may well be that the blatant disrespect of laying seismic testing equipment immediately adjacent to a cemetery where family members and war veterans lie has begun to galvanize Rogersville’s Acadian population into action.
Today, only two days after the RCMP lied to activists attempting to park on parish land adjacent to their cemetery, telling those attempting to gather that it was private property, an emboldened crowd of about 60 Acadians, Anglophones and Indigenous people – united in their purpose – gathered in the pouring rain next to an active testing line.
Fearless of the potential danger of un-exploded ordinance, a number of people ventured southward down the active testing line, heading away from Pleasant Ridge Road towards Salmon River Road. With the constant hum of a helicopter transporting bagged geophones as a backdrop, activists wandered the freshly cut seismic line. Many noticed the presence of traditionally used medicinal plants growing directly next to un-detonated shot holes.
While most people exited the seismic test line by nightfall, as of press time an unknown number of individuals remain in the woods near the ordinance.

HMC: SWN drills more wetlands shot-holes, security guard finds prayer and white doves in the morning

SOURCE: http://halifax.mediacoop.ca/story/swn-drills-more-wetlands-shot-holes-security-guard/18314

SWN drills more wetlands shot-holes, security guard finds prayer and white doves in the morning

Line 5 work continues, Holiday Inn action draws 35 women in white.

by Miles Howe and Rana Encol

Security guard prays for Mother Nature at the site of a wetlands shot-hole. [Photo: Miles Howe]
Security guard prays for Mother Nature at the site of a wetlands shot-hole. [Photo: Miles Howe]
Women in white gathered at the Holiday Inn in Moncton to protest SWN Resource Canada's continued seismic testing in New Brunswick. [Photo: Miles Howe]
Women in white gathered at the Holiday Inn in Moncton to protest SWN Resource Canada’s continued seismic testing in New Brunswick. [Photo: Miles Howe]
Shot hole driller takes a flower. [Photo: Miles Howe]
Shot hole driller takes a flower. [Photo: Miles Howe]
ELSIPOGTOG, NEW BRUNSWICK – Yesterday, a group of anti-shale gas activists stumbled across a team of SWN-contracted workers laying a string of ‘geophones’ – the equipment used to received seismic data created when an area is tested – on a walking trail bordering a settler cemetery at 2304 Pleasant Ridge Road. SWN Resources Canada continues to seismic test ‘Line 5’, a 35.9 km north-south line that cuts through sensitive wetlands and traditional Mi’kmaq hunting grounds west of highway 126.

While the activists remained peaceful at all times, the workers appeared surprised to be discovered, retreating deeper into the woods and calling Industrial Security Limited, the Irving-owned firm that has for weeks now been providing the majority of SWN’s private security needs.

Continuing along the workers’ path, the activists discovered a drilled shot-hole – a hole bored into the ground that contains an explosive charge that will later be set off to gather seismic data – directly in a wetlands area. This falls in line with an earlier discovery of SWN Resources Canada circumventing registered wetlands regulations further south along Line 5.

Two Industrial Security Limited employees then arrived, and, citing workplace safety policy which does not allow anyone without protective equipment to come closer than 50 metres to an explosive at a workplace, informed the gathering party that they would not be allowed to proceed further into the woods. This was despite the fact that the activists were less than 3 metres from the explosive-laden shot hole.

For the next several hours, something of a standoff ensued, with a growing number of security guards, RCMP and activists congregating in the woods. At one point, three Mi’kmaq women asked if they could lay tobacco at the site of the shot-hole. An Industrial Security guard offered to lay the tobacco in their stead, and while the group played the Mi’kmaq Honour Song, the guard prayed to the four directions. He later left the scene in tears.

As evening fell, it became clear that the security and RCMP were – as has been largely the case to this point – concerned almost exclusively with the well-being of SWN-contracted workers and not with the safety of those who continue to rally against shale gas exploration in New Brunswick. People questioning why they were, for example, allowed on one particular piece of the trail and not another – when the 50 metre boundary zone had already clearly been compromised – were given no clear answer.

RCMP, security and activists posed for pictures atop the shot hole, and once it was clear that the SWN-contracted workers were finished their shift, all security and police forces cleared out of the area, and the activists were free to continue along the trail. 5 more shot-holes were discovered drilled directly in wetlands areas.

The seismic testing trail continued for approximately three kilometres, crossed a small river, and wound it’s way up to Young Ridge Road.

Further inspection of the trail, to the south of the original cemetery entrance, was met with an increased security presence, including RCMP guards and armed security guards on All-Terrain Vehicles.

White Doves at the Holiday Inn

Earlier that morning around thirty-five Mi’kmaq, Acadian, and Anglophone women dressed in white, holding flowers and leaflets, occupied the parking lot entrance ways to the Holiday Inn hotel where SWN workers stay in Moncton.

Every morning the workers leave the hotel by truck and disperse to their respective testing sites and security posts – this morning to Line 5.

Nine of the women drummed and sang as they entered the lot and circled the company vehicles.  Others handed out flyers to workers and regular hotel guests.

Ruth Wolpin, a cancer survivor, says short-term economic gains from fracking aren’t worth the long-term health effects caused by carcinogens contaminating the well water.

In their leaflets, the group argues the numbers don’t add up: “Jobs available to New Brunwickers will be few, low paying and short-lived. The typical well is productive for just five years, and its profits will mostly travel out of the province.”

Organizer Greg Cook, who first mobilized around resisting the sale of NB Power in 2009-2010, asserted the current Alward government does not have public consent around this issue – and will often try to compartmentalize it as First Nations or rural issue only.  Cook said today’s action was meant to convey a message of solidarity among nations and backgrounds.

HMC: A Week of Civil Disobedience Trainings in Elsipogtog

SOURCE: http://halifax.mediacoop.ca/blog/hillary/18294

A Week of Civil Disobedience Trainings in Elsipogtog

By Hillary Bain Lindsay
This week, dozens of people are learning how to use non-violent direct action to resist shale gas exploration in Kent County, NB.  Photo: Hillary Lindsay
This week, dozens of people are learning how to use non-violent direct action to resist shale gas exploration in Kent County, NB. Photo: Hillary Lindsay

Thirty people have been arrested in Kent County, New Brunswick this summer for resisting shale gas exploration in the region.  After a week of civil disobedience trainings, there’s likely to be dozens, if not hundreds more.

On Tuesday, over 50 people (including me) gathered at the Elsipogtog Fisheries Centre in Kent County.  We learned about non-violent direct action, practiced going limp when being arrested, strategized for effective protests, and talked about colonialism and treaty rights.

Participants were of all ages, both Native and non-Native, although the majority appeared to be white.

I asked Eliza Knockwood, a young mother from Abegweit First Nation in PEI, who has family in Elsipogtog and has been involved in the Sacred Fire encampment since early June, what she thought of the mix of people taking part in the trainings.

“We all have a common thread today.  It’s not just about being a black person or a Native person or white person,” said Knockwood.  “Today we are a people that are standing for a unified message.  We are asserting our human rights and our treaty rights…We as a peoples stand firm on Mother Earth to hold our ground, to hold our water sacred.  And each other.”

There was a sense of something significant happening, as Mi’kmaq warriors, Acadian grandmothers, and young people on summer holidays sat down and shared a potluck of bacon, watermelon, cornbread, and couscous.

But of course, it wasn’t that simple.  Barbara Low, a Mi’kmaq woman named the “elephant in the room” on Tuesday afternoon when she brought up the different realities people were bringing to the table.  She spoke about how Native people are criminalized and treated differently by police. She spoke about how the battle against fracking might simply be about the environment for white people, but for First Nations, it is about home, land and colonialism.

It seemed like this was a message that non-Natives present were starting to understand.

Sue Adams is part of anti-fracking organizing in her own community of Antigonish, Nova Scotia.  Resistance to shale gas exploration has not been the primary reason for her visits (this was her third) to Elsipogtog and the Sacred Fire, however.

“My main concern here at this time is First Nation treaty rights,” said Adams.  “The right to free, prior and informed consent.  Some of my friends here feel like that hasn’t been respected.”

Philippe Duhamel travelled from his home in Quebec to facilitate the trainings.  He has been involved in movements for social and environmental justice for decades and arrested more times than he can count.

He believes there’s something special happening around the Sacred Fire in Elsipogtog.

“What’s especially interesting is the coming together of the Maliseet, Mi’kmaq, the Acadians and the Anglophone New Brunswickers,” says Duhamel.   “To stand their ground against the destruction of millions of gallons of water and the fracking of wells, that we know now poison whole communities.”

Duhamel says he’s never seen a community organize so quickly or so effectively.

“I know it’s difficult.  I know we’re riddled with conflict,” he says.  “It’s very hard work.  But I see the promise here of developing a model to work interculturally to build a people’s movement to stop the land grab.”

“People here have a good chance of creating a model victory,” says Duhamel.  “By a model, I really mean something that can be replicated everywhere.  What are the ingredients of [effective] mass civil disobedience?”

Willie Nolan is hoping to find out.  Nolan lives in Kent County and has been working against shale gas in New Brunswick for over four years.  She’s been involved at the Sacred Fire since June 3, and is hoping her community is at a turning point.

“I’m hoping we’ll be able to collaborate and implement strategies that will force the industry to get out of here,” says Nolan.

But to do that, “We need more numbers,” she says.  “We will win, [but] we’ll win quicker the more people who are ready to jump on board and help.”

There is an open, non-violent direct action training at the Elsipogtog Fisheries Training Development Centre on Saturday.  To register, email aboriginalrights.atlantic@gmail.com with “REGISTER” in the subject line. Include your name, contact information, and that you would like to attend Saturday’s training.