Warriors in front of blocked SWN truck near Elsipogtog, New Brunswick.
by Miles Howe, Halifax Media Coop, July 28, 2013
ELSIPOGTOG, NEW BRUNSWICK – Last night, July 27th, about 35 anti-shale gas activists blockaded a 20 ton truck, subcontracted to SWN Resources Canada, for over 8 hours. The truck, filled with helicopter bags – each containing dozens of geophones – was attempting to exit southward along Irving Road, a back road west of highway 126 in New Brunswick. The truck, as well as eight other equipment trucks subcontracted to SWN, were conducting seismic testing in the hopes of finding shale gas deposits along a 35.9 kilometer north-south line known as ‘Line 5’. All the equipment and workers were halted until about 3:30am Atlantic Time.
Activists had originally negotiated with RCMP for a 3 hour work stoppage, in homage to the Ghost Dance that the Sundancers in Elsipogtog were undertaking yesterday evening. Elsipogtog War Chief John Levi, himself a Sundancer, was absent from the blockade. In his stead, Jason Okay, District War Chief, and ‘Seven’, the Mi’kmaq territory War Chief, had come to the assistance of the anti-shale gas movement.
The 3 hour work stoppage was meant to occur at the end of the workday. It would appear that RCMP had agreed to this temporary block.
However, when the 20 ton truck was first blocked at about 5pm – in front of an already heavy police presence – the RCMP immediately blocked in the activists who surrounded the truck. At the time there were about 35 activists at the scene, and word began to trickle in to those encamped that an RCMP roadblock at the entrance to Irving Road – about 16 kilometers to the south – was not allowing anyone to pass. This was apparently counter to the original agreement, and began what was to be a standoff that continued until the early morning hours.
RCMP and the ‘Elsipogtog Peacekeepers’ – a group of three individuals on Elsipogtog Band payroll who ostensibly serve as a neutral party – did not seem able or desirous of undoing the police roadblock that was refusing all entry. The activists requests were initially straightforward, only asking that anyone wishing to attend their ceremony be allowed to drive the 16 kilometer distance. The activists also specifically requested a drum leader and a pipe carrier to assist them. Social media sources continued to note that a sizable line of cars was still being refused entry.
Tensions further increased at about 7:30pm when Annie Clair, also known as ‘Pochahontas’ to the anti-shale gas activists, climbed atop the roof of the seized truck and chained and padlocked herself to a spare tire mounting welded to the roof. She was quickly joined by two other activists, one of whom also chained herself to the roof while the other locked herself to a helicopter bag filled with geo-phones.
Clair, who only days before had tied herself to helicopter bags and had halted work at a helicopter launching site, was defiant in her message to the gathered police force, noting that if they were going to shoot her, to go ahead.
RCMP and the Peacekeepers again continued to ‘negotiate’, but did not seem able to relay the message to the RCMP blockade that the first step towards resolving the standoff was to allow traffic to flow freely. Activists, for their part, remained adamant that the 3 hours they were promised for ceremony would only begin once the RCMP blockade was removed and their supporters could join them. As the hours of standoff continued, and food and water were denied to the activists, RCMP marched in formation through the blockade with numerous boxes of pizza and cases of water.
Eventually, one of the Elsipogtog Elders – also a clan mother – begged Clair to unchain herself and descend from the truck roof. With social media now reaching something of a frenzied pitch – and stories of dozens of police cruisers and paddy wagons waiting for the activists, Clair complied. Indeed, the activists were now visibly blocked in by numerous police trucks and cruisers. Infrared lights shone from some of the RCMP cars and a large spotlight was erected shining directly onto the activists’ makeshift encampment.
RCMP negotiators noted that they would not arrest anyone that night, but made no guarantees that future days might not see activists picked off one by one in house arrests. As has been the case since early June when active protests began against shale gas exploration in Kent County, yesterday police made no secret of their heavy surveillance of the action. At 3:30am, as activists moved their trucks and cars off the road, it became clear that an entire SWN work crew had been stopped. With a heavy police escort, eight SWN trucks emerged from a side road and quickly sped past the gathered crowd. With no equipment or SWN workers left to guard, the RCMP quickly left the scene as well.