(Elsipogtog Chief Arren Sock (l) and New Brunswick Premier David Alward (r) emerge from Fredericton meeting pledging more talks. Photo by Andrea Schmidt/Special to APTN)
By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
FREDERICTON–New Brunswick Premier David Alward and Elsipogtog First Nation Chief Arren Sock walked out of a meeting Monday in Fredericton holding braids of sweetgrass and pledging more talks to end an anti-fracking highway blockade that continues in a northern part of the province beneath the shadow of a court injunction ordering its dismantling.
During the meeting, Texas-based environmental activists hand-delivered a letter from the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society to Houston headquarters of Southwestern Energy (SWN), the parent of the company exploring for shale gas in New Brunswick. The letter was delivered as part of Idle No More’s day of action campaign which also unfolded the same day.
The blockade, on Hwy 135, has trapped several of SWN Resources Canada’s exploration vehicles in a compound.
Alward and Sock met for about two and a half hours and emerged saying they had agreed to establish a working group to find a solution that would lead to the blockade’s end.
Sock said he would be consulting with community members on the make-up of the working group.
Alward said the groundwork for creating the committee would begin Tuesday.
“What we have is the foundation,” said Alward. “We have indicated collectively, together, that we will be in dialogue every day.”
This new working group, however, will take time to come together and time may work against it. A New Brunswick judge handed down an injunction against the blockade last Thursday and, should police move in to clear the blockade, the ongoing dialogue would quickly fall apart.
Sock and some councillors met with SWN lawyers in Moncton Sunday who said the company would not attempt any legal maneuverings to press the issue on the blockade for at least three days.
“We hope the company acts on good faith and respects the work the premier and I have done so far,” said Sock.
Alward said he would not be contacting the company to discuss the situation because the issue was out of his hands.
“The government does not direct how an injunction or how a legal process takes place,” said Alward.
In Houston, activist with the environmental group T.E.J.A.S entered SWN’s corporate head office with a letter from the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society saying the company’s exploration was a threat and an act of “cultural genocide.” The warrior society’s letter demanded a response within 48 hours.
“These attacks to our people’s water source infringe on the integrity of our cultural resources and heritage in our region,” said the letter. “Allowing further development violates our treaty rights to not only hunt, fish and gather…but our treaty right, Aboriginal right and title right to the land and water itself.”
SWN’s Houston office did not return a request for comment.
The warrior society wanted a seat at the table with the primier, but says it has been cut out of the process.
Elsipogtog’s War Chief John Levi, however, attended Sunday’s meeting with the premier in Moncton and the band council considers him a representative of the warriors.
The highway blockade is set up in Rexton, NB, about 80 kilometres north of Moncton and about 15 km northeast of Elsipogtog First Nation.
RCMP vehicles have sealed off the blockade on both sides. The site sits next to a compound holding several exploration vehicles belonging to SWN.
The injunction had not been served at the blockade as of this article’s posting.