Mi’kmaq indigenous campaign prevents hydraulic fracturing in Elsipogtog, New Brunswick, 2013

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Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
South Western Energy Resources announced their withdrawal from the area shortly after a 2 December day of action.
5 June
3 December
Location and Goals
Location City/State/Province: 
Elsipogtog, New Brunswick
Location Description: 
town in traditional Mi’kmaq territory Signigtog
Mi'kmaq protesters aimed to prevent the exploration for and extraction of natural gas by South Western Energy Resources Canada and Irving Oil on their traditional territory.

The Mi’kmaq first nations people are indigenous to what is now New Brunswick, Canada. The provincial government of New Brunswick holds all mineral rights throughout the province, making mining allowable wherever it chooses, including on indigenous land.

In 2013, Fuel extraction companies South Western Energy Resources Canada and Irving Oil proposed natural gas exploration of traditional Mi'kma'ki territory in New Brunswick called Signigtog. Gas extracted from the area would mostly be sent to the United States, but the environmental effects would remain.

The native communities were outraged. They said the territory in question was never actually ceded to Canada, meaning that the province could not claim its mineral rights. They also feared a negative impact on local waterways.

On 5 June South Western Energy Resources Canada started seismic testing in the Mi'kma'ki town of Elsipogtog. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police provided escort for seismic equipment called “thumpers.”

First nations people and supporters obstructed highway 126 to prevent equipment from passing. Three demonstrators were arrested on 5 June and two others on 9 June, charged with mischief and related charges. Dramatically, Mi’kmaq warrior and protest leader Suzanne Patles scattered tabacco in a circle on the road and made traditional Mi'kma'ki prayers before she was arrested on the 9th.

The campaigners expanded their actions and occupied multiple highways, including 126, 11 and 134. Road blockades took the form of community encampments, human chains and burning tires.

Seismic testing slowed considerably, but arrests were mounting and harming the community. Mi’kmaq negotiators agreed on 30 July to allow summer exploration. In September campaigners resumed their highway occupations. Seismic testing continued regardless, and the police created multiple arrest check points.

Then, on 28 September, Mi'kmaq and Elsipogtog members created a blockade around South Western thumper trucks, which had been stationed nearby. Without access to essential equipment, South Western could not continue exploration. The peaceful blockade included some 500 protesters and lasted for nearly two weeks.

On 1 October at the site where equipment was being held hostage, Elsipogtog Chief Aaron Sock issued an eviction notice against South Western Energy Resources. He formally reclaimed indigenous land and gave South Western one day to leave.
The next day a court injunction favored South Western and ordered demonstrators to disband. Protesters refused the order, so several hundred Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers moved to clear the site on 17 October.

Police arrived in the early morning with dogs and snipers, firing rounds of rubber bullets into the crowd. Mi’kmaq Warrior Tyson Peters was shot repeatedly while shielding a woman on highway 134, and his leg was seriously injured. Protesters threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at police lines, but no officers were reported harmed. Over 40 protesters were beaten and arrested, including at least two with charges of assault.
Protesters continued performing indigenous songs throughout the raid, and people separate from the peaceful blockade burnt six police vehicles. The police finally retreated at 7:00 in the evening after clearing the blockade and successfully removing South Western equipment.

On 21 October David Alward, Premier of New Brunswick, said he hoped South Western operations would resume. On the same day, though, the injunction issued 2 October was repealed, allowing protests to continue. Over the following week, other first nations activists built a traditional longhouse near the New Brunswick legislative building to support frontline activists and tribal governance. Also during that week blockades were held in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario in solidarity with the campaigners.

In early November, South Western filed a lawsuit against 13 Mi'kma'ki protesters, claiming a loss of $650,000 due to vandalism and lost hours. The case is to be heard by the Court of Queen's Bench in Moncton, and the result is not yet known.
After a brief absence, South Western Energy Resources announced it would return on 13 November 2013. South Western lawyers attempted negotiating the release of four jailed activists in exchange for land access, but Elsipogtog War Chief John Levi refused.

The chief alerted community members for readiness. They launched a petition for a moratorium on gas extraction in New Brunswick, following the example of successful efforts in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Then when South Western workers returned, campaigners launched another series of highway occupations, although no attempts were made for a second seizure of equipment.

On 1 December campaigners shut down highway 11 for several hours. Police again cleared barricades by court injunction and arrested five demonstrators. The Canadian First Nation’s group Idle No More responded by calling for a national day of protest on 2 December to show solidarity with the Mi'kma'ki activists. Actions occurred in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Victoria, Toronto, Hamilton and Montreal, drawing substantial attention to the grievances in Elsipogtog. National protesters blockaded roadways, dropped banners, released public statements, and even forced the closure of Vancouver’s port for an hour.

Almost immediately, South Western Energy Resources announced it had finished seismic testing and would be leaving New Brunswick until 2015. No proposal was given for further exploration, and many concluded that South Western was frightened by protesters and wanted to wait for the campaign’s morale to drop before exploring more.

In total, over 100 people were arrested in association with the campaign. Campaigners stopped the South Western effort to prepare for hydro fracturing in Elsipogtog. Mi’kmaq members, including Suzanne Patles, have sworn to continue their struggle if South Western ever returns.

Research Notes

(1) Protestors demanded a moratorium on gas extraction partly inspired by a successful moratorium campaign in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Hayden Dahm 06/05/2014