Friday, June 21st, was National Aboriginal Day, which according to the Federal Government is when “Canadians from all walks of life are invited to participate in the many National Aboriginal Day events that will be taking place from coast to coast to coast.”
What better day to drive up to the Mi’kmaq community of Elsipogtog and join both indigenous and non-indigenous in the fight to save the land, water and democracy from the for-profit and corporate interests of SWN? It seemed pretty appropriate to me!
On Friday morning, I and an ally, drove from Halifax to Highway 126 with a vehicle full of supplies we were asked to bring by the local community. We had coolers filled with ice, wood for the sacred fire, bags of blankets and sleeping bags, several different types of lanterns and flashlights, and a large tent for people to keep themselves and their kitchen dry, purchased by the Council of Canadians- thanks to our members!
When we reached the Sacred Fire a large civil disobedience action had just ended and 12 members of the community had been arrested. We gathered in a large group to listen to people sharing accounts of what they had witnessed.
Several accounts were given of a man who ran in front of a slowly moving truck and grabbed onto its bumper. The truck came to a stop and he slide underneath it. The police arrested him- some people felt the police were handling the man quite roughly- when a woman ran to stop the arrest. It’s unclear how she was hurt- some suggest she hit her face on the ground during the arrest, others claim they saw the police hit her- but when the woman was pulled to her feet, she was bleeding from the side of her mouth.
Another woman who choose to stand in the road was 8 1/2 months pregnant. She was arrested but fortunately the first to be released from a jail in Moncton (as a side note, the men and women are still being taken to separate jails cities away from each other).
While on this National Aboriginal Day, both indigenous and non-indigenous protestors stood side-by-side on the highway in front of the trucks. Several people reported that non-indigenous protestors were being surrounded by the police and forced off the road, while indigenous protestors were much more quickly arrested. In the end, both indigenous and non-indigenous were arrested, but several of the witness felt there was an obvious difference in the way people were being treated that seemed racially biased.
I also heard several stories about police officers telling indigenous protestors to stop protesting with non-indigenous. Sounds like a pretty obvious divide and conquer tactic and fortunately everyone present had a good chuckle over it.
After the community debriefed about what they had witnessed, the women began to drum and the community gathered around the Sacred Fire. Some members of the community went to hold signs and banners beside the road, educating passersby and asking for their support. Easily 80 per cent of the vehicles that passed by honked their horns, gave a thumbs up, or cheered and waved. Even a passenger train blew its whistle while passengers waved their support. It seemed like the only people who sped up to pass the protestors were the two-dozen or so police cars and paddy wagons that drove back and forth along the highway.
The community in Elsipogtog is incredibly strong! It was so inspirational to see people comforting one another, looking after each other, strategizing over what to do next, and still so passionate about the fight despite weeks of living in tents, being rained on, being away from their families, being jailed, and having friends and community members hurt by the police. When I left Friday night I was exhausted and so, so inspired!
If you’re interested in seeing photos of the encampment, please see the Council’s Flickr account at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/councilofcanadians/sets/72157634264775719/
Thank you to the community of Elsipogtog for letting me join you for the day and for teaching me so much! Good luck to our Fredericton Chapter of the Council of Canadians who has been visiting, protesting and sleeping at the Elsipogtog camp. The Council of Canadians will continue to support Elsipogtog and the fight for clean water, safe land, and democracy however we can.