Elsipogtog chief appoints 'peacekeeper' in shale gas dispute
Chief Arren Sock repeats calls for moratorium on shale gas exploration
Elsipogtog First Nation Chief Arren Sock has appointed a "peacekeeper" to deal with growing tensions over shale gas exploration in his eastern New Brunswick community.
SWN Resources Canada, which is conducting seismic testing in the area, has been met by nearly four weeks of protests.
RCMP have arrested 33 people, some of them aboriginals, at or around various demonstrations in Kent County in recent weeks.
"We will continue to say no to shale gas," Sock told a news conference on Thursday.
Sock again called for a moratorium on shale gas exploration, but said something had to be done now because the possibility for violence has escalated.
He appointed Wendall Nicholas, a member of the Tobique First Nation, as a "peacekeeper."
"We have asked Mr. Nicholas to now focus on assisting us in establishing the Elsipogtog peacekeepers who will be mandated to maintain peace and order and to protect our people and ensure public safety," said Sock.
Will serve as liaison
Nicholas previously worked with the RCMP to develop a national protocol on conflict resolution involving aboriginals.
"There is information about cultural practices that I think we all need to understand. And that there's a diversity about how those cultural practices occur, so we'll do our best to share information as best as possible," said Nicholas.
He said he'll be available when there is friction between police and protesters, native and non-native. He hopes to act as a liaison in order to defuse any situations that become tense in the future, he said.
Nicholas said he and the band council plan to meet with RCMP to talk about how they can work together.
"They will be contacting me, and I will reach out to the community leaders to determine the best course of action to resolve something quickly."
Protesters say they feel intimidated by the number of police officers.
While police and demonstrators agree the majority of the time things are peaceful, some of the arrests have been made when people are performing cultural rituals, blocking SWN trucks.
Police say that action is illegal, so they have to step in.
"The RCMP have a mandate, and so it's not for me to question that mandate," said Nicholas. "But my role is understanding that they too have said that they want to have people safe. So we will do that together as best possible."
Former Elsipogtog chief Susan Levi-Peters says Nicholas has entered the situation at the right time.
"Things will be a lot better," she said. "I think it's very important to bring in peacekeepers. We don't want another Oka or we don't want another Dudley George case here."
Protest site moved
Earlier on Thursday, protesters, who call themselves protectors of the land, moved their campsite from Highway 126 in Harcourt.
Most of the protesters are from Elsipogtog First Nation and they have moved their sacred fire down the road, closer to home.
Gary Simon, a spokesperson for the group, said the decision shouldn't be seen as giving up the protest against seismic testing.
"They are pretty much done seismic testing over here, they are testing closer to the Elsipogtog reserve, and we'll be closer to home, closer to family, closer to support," he said.
There was a heavy police presence in the area on Wednesday after a drilling machine was set on fire and destroyed.
People involved in the protest say they are against such acts of vandalism.