UPDATE: Elsipogtog Chief Aaron Sock moved burnt-out trucks Sunday night with two friends, a shovel and a local tow-truck company. War Chief John Levi says still wants RCMP to ground surveillance flights to move camp to Hwy 116 site. Mi’kmaq Warrior Society spokeswoman Suzanne Patles says group needs mandate to continue participating if camp moves.
By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
ELSIPOGTOG FIRST NATION–The remaining encampment along Route 134 that was the scene of a heavily-armed raid Thursday will be dismantled if the RCMP grounds its surveillance aircraft, said Elsipogtog’s War Chief John Levi.
Levi said stopping the surveillance flights would be an act of good faith and allow people in the community to heal.
Levi said he spoke with RCMP officers Sunday who also wanted free passage to remove the burned-out shells of their vehicles torched during Thursday’s raid.
“I told them, get rid of that plane. We are trying to heal and you are still there poking us with a stick,” said Levi. “They are not willing to call off the plane and I told them I am not backing them up on cleaning up their mess. It works both ways, when you negotiate something, you get something.”
He said he came away frustrated from the meeting, but hoped to convince the police to do the right thing Monday.
“Let our people heal, don’t agitate any more, it is so simple,” said Levi. “Yet they can’t even do that.”
New Brunswick RCMP could not be reached for comment.
Levi is the war chief specifically for Elsipogtog and is not connected to the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society which was in charge of security at the encampment at the time of the RCMP raid by camouflaged tactical units.
Levi was a prominent spokesperson for Elsipogtog’s anti-fracking movement throughout this past summer.
Levi said there are plans to move the encampment and light a sacred fire in an open area used during the summer. The area, which was once the nerve centre of the region’s anti-fracking movement, sits just off Hwy 116 which runs through Elsipogtog First Nation’s territory.
“We are planning on going to the 116 where the sacred fire was before and do our healing there and get ready for the next round,” said Levi.
Levi said there is no longer any point to the Route 134 encampment after the raid freed the exploration trucks it was blocking.
“There is no sense to being on the side of the road, it’s only a danger for our people,” said Levi.
Many of the Warrior Society’s core members were among the 40 arrested during the raid. At least two involved in its leadership are still in custody. The RCMP also seized three hunting rifles, ammunition, knives and crude improvised explosive devices.
The encampment is less than a kilometre away from a high school.
“For the safety of the students there, we don’t want anything to escalate here anymore,” said Levi.
Levi said he’s never advocated the use of weapons or violence.
“I told my supporters, let’s kill them with kindness. The only weapons we carry are drums, sweetgrass and sage,” said Levi.
A community meeting was held in Elsipogtog Sunday afternoon to discuss the trauma experienced by community members as a result of the raid.
Levi said the community hall would remain open 24-7 throughout the week for people who need counselling as a result of the events.
“We have to help our people heal,” said Levi, in an interview with APTN National News by the burned out police cruisers as the RCMP’s surveillance plane circled overhead.
Elsipogtog Chief Aaron Sock also asked the community to allow RCMP members to return to the detachment on the reserve, said Willi Nolan, from Elsipogtog.
“There is great disappointment, there is mistrust of (the RCMP by) the people,” said Nolan.
Nolan said Thursday’s raid, which triggered widespread chaos and clashes between police and demonstrators, left many people shaken.
“The community suffered terrible trauma. We saw our elders, youth and women being injured, being hurt by the police because a corporation wants to poison everything,” she said. “They saw what the law does.”
But there was another sentiment just beneath the pain, said Nolan.
“It was also celebratory. One elder said, ‘we are winning,'” she said. “Even though it doesn’t feel like it now, it feels like we are all traumatized, but he said we are winning and I want to believe him.”
The encampment along Route 134 continued to hum with life late Sunday evening as volunteers split and piled fire wood while others sat around fires chatting and smoking cigarettes. In one area, a group of warriors were called into a circle and told that their job was not to instigate, but to keep the peace.
There was an air that this could all continue indefinitely, even as they opened the road back to two lanes of traffic. The day before, over 100 Mi’kmaqs and their supporters marched from the site and for about an hour blocked Hwy 11, which passes over Route 134.
Some people, who did not want to be named, criticized the meeting held earlier in the day. One long-time supporter said he thought the meeting was going to map out the next steps in the protest and came away disappointed. He said he planned to dig in for the long haul.
Assembly of Manitoba Grand Chief Derek Nepinak visited the site late Saturday night and attended the meeting Sunday after participating in a ceremony on the community’s Sundance grounds with Sock. The two exchanged gifts and smoked a peace pipe.
Nepinak said he suspected there was collusion between the RCMP and Houston-based SWN Resources Canada, which had its vehicles trapped by the encampment. SWN is conducting shale gas exploration in the region. Shale gas is extracted through fracking, a controversial method many believe poses a threat to the environment.
“How is it that during this process that the company was able to come in untouched and remove their equipment?” said Nepinak. “There was obviously a degree of collusion.”