First Nations communities in several regions of the country staged protests Friday in support of the Mi'kmaq demonstrators in Rexton, N.B., who clashed with police Thursday during a protest against shale gas exploration in the region.

More than 40 people were arrested after tensions escalated at a road block near the New Brunswick community where members of the Elsipogtog First Nation have been protesting seismic testing being conducted by SWN Resources of Canada. 

The ​natural gas exploration company wants to extract shale gas from the area using the controversial method called hydraulic fracturing, or frackingThe First Nations community is opposed to the project and is trying to force SWN Resources off land that it says it has a right to reclaim from the Crown.

Enbridge Pipeline Hearings 20131018

Protesters in solidarity with Rexton, N.B.'s Mi'kmaq First Nation gathered outside a National Energy Board public hearing on Enbridge's Line 9 oil pipeline in Toronto, Friday. A group later entered the hearing and disrupted the meeting, the CBC's Linda Ward tweeted. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

Events turned violent when RCMP decided to enforce an injunction to end the weeks-long demonstration and fired pepper spray at protesters who were trying to push through the police line. Eight of those arrested have been charged, and the rest released.

Protests in support of the New Brunswick demonstrators began Thursday in several Ontario, Quebec and East Coast communities, including Ottawa, Montreal and Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, and spread to other parts of the country Friday.

Issues at heart of protest won't go away

On Friday, the sympathy protests began early in the morning with members of the Mohawk community in Kahnawake outside Montreal disrupting traffic on the Highway 132 approach to the Mercier Bridge. The event lasted from about 6:30 a.m. to 8 a.m., with protesters handing out information to motorists.

About 200 people had also marched through Montreal on Thursday to show their support for the Mi'kmaq and anger over the arrests. That protest included a stop in front of  RCMP headquarters.

In Nova Scotia, there were road blocks and demonstrations in several parts of the province, including Halifax, Cape Breton Island, Aulds Cove and Millbrook, near a ​highway connecting Halifax to New Brunswick.

"We will be shutting the economy down, but not the people," said Jenny Marshall, one of several protesters along the Trans-Canada Highway south of Waycobah, near Baddeck on Cape Breton Island. "The people are free to go as their please. It will be the trucks we stop, the merchandise."

In Thunder Bay, Ont., a little over a dozen people gathered outside the Ontario Native Women's Association office on Friday. They lit a fire​, played drums and sang songs.

Even though he couldn't be in New Brunswick in person, Thunder Bay resident Chance King said being part of the ceremony felt like the next best thing he could do.

"Our sacred fire, sending strength to them, sending out prayers to them so that they can stay strong and continue the protest against the fracking, because it's not going to stop today, right, it's going to keep going," he said.

More demonstrations planned

First Nations people who came out to protest in different parts of the country voiced a combination of support for the land claim and resource development issues underlying the New Brunswick protest and criticism of the RCMP intervention, which some saw as heavy-handed, and the injunction that was aimed at ending the protest, which many considered unjust.

"One of the biggest strategies that has been used against us time and time again is … the divide and conquer strategy," said Robert Animikii Horton, who helped organize the Thunder Bay protest. "What we’re seeing now, since they’ve shaken the beehive, is unprecedented solidarity all across Turtle Island."

Turtle Island is the name that has historically been used by some aboriginal people to describe the continent of North America.

Others were planned throughout Friday afternoon and early evening in various communities in several provinces, including Ottawa, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Iqaluit and Whitehorse. 

Roughly 80 people gathered in downtown Calgary Friday evening to protest.


Demonstrators rally in Calgary to show support for members of the Elsipogtog First Nation, who have been protesting seismic testing in New Brunswick. (CBC)

"This evening we are going to be standing and rallying in solidarity with our sisters and brothers out on the East Coast," said Chantal Chagnon.

She said the violence that has erupted there is unfortunate, and the Calgary protesters would like to see everything end peacefully and respectfully.

"We are here to pray for their safety and to pray that the officers involved have a softening of their heart."

In downtown Edmonton, over 100 people gathered in Churchill Square before marching to an RCMP detachment. 

And in Toronto, Idle No More protesters gathered outside the Metro Toronto Convention Centre this afternoon in solidarity with Elsipogtok and in opposition to Engridge's Line 9 pipeline. Members of the National Energy Board, who were holding a public hearing in the convention centre, were eventually escorted out by police after a group of protesters gained entry and disrupted the proceedings with chants and singing.

A demonstration was also planned for outside the Canadian Consulate in New York City, and members and sympathizers of the the Idle No More movement based in Washington, D.C., intended to gather in Columbus Circle to show their support for the Elsipogtog First Nation.

A major intersection in Vancouver was also temporarily blocked as a crowd of several hundred protesters made their way to a rally on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery.

A solidarity protest had also taken place on Parliament Hill Thursday.