STU reacts to Rexton protests

Police enforcing court order to end protests and blocking SWN equipment (Noah Levi/Submitted)
Police enforcing court order to end protests and blocking SWN equipment (Noah Levi/Submitted)

The images were startling and saddening: RCMP officers with their guns drawn; rock-throwing Warriors; police cars burning; elders being pepper sprayed. St. Thomas students, alumni and faculty saw Thursday’s clash outside of Rexton from a range of perspectives.

Recent STU graduate Starlit Simon was disheartened.

“I couldn’t believe what was happening. I felt like I was holding my breath and tears in all day.”

Because Simon lives and works in Fredericton, she was unable to be with protestors, but kept up with news all day.

“I am from Elsipogtog and most of the people I was seeing in the videos being attacked were people I know. Some of the kindest, sweetest women I have ever known. I saw pictures of them being pepper sprayed, on the ground, being arrested after being kicked and punched. It was down right awful.”

Laura Brown had an even closer encounter with the protests. Saturday morning while reporting for Global News in Rexton, Brown’s vehicle and camera were seized by protestors.

The 2012 journalism grad doesn’t blame protestors and her stuff was returned later that day.

“This was just five or six people who were very angry, and it should not reflect the work many, many hundreds of protestors have worked so hard for all summer long,” she said.

“This movement has become less and less about shale gas and its effect on New Brunswick and more and more about protest and violence and that’s not what it was originally about.”

A large group of Mounties arrived at the Kent County site early Thursday morning where Elsipogtog and anti-shale gas protestors were blockading the highway and impounding exploration equipment owned by SWN Resources. After several days of mounting tensions, RCMP had to enforce a court injunction to dismantle the blockade.

First Nations protestors set six cop cars on fire. RCMP officers arrested at least 40 people and said shots were fired by persons unknown within the encampment. Police seized an array of rifles and what they described as potentially deadly explosives.

Simon said her people are peaceful but they had no choice but to defend themselves from the RCMP officers.

“That’s when all hell broke loose because that was when my community started to fight back.”

“Most times the energy big wigs can buy out people by making a settlement. That wasn’t the case here, Elsipogtog wouldn’t be bought because they realize the importance of our environment and they have concerns not only for themselves and all of New Brunswick but also for the next generations to come. They see the bigger picture. They’ve looked past the dollar signs,” said Simon.

STU First Nations student Shasta Paul said the media is on the RCMP’s side.

“A lot is being made of the burnt police vehicles because it fits the narratives of First Nations people,” she said. “This is something we’ve seen throughout the history of Canada, the First Nations story isn’t being told.”

Third-year student Peter Johnston thinks Premier David Alward is at fault.

“This is what happens when you ignore an issue. Premier Alward should have addressed First Nations issues in a way that satisfied everyone. It took a breakout like this for him to finally sit down with Chief Sock.”

Michael Camp is a member of a political panel on CBC-Radio’s Shift. On Friday, he told the CBC audience how saddened he was that authorities had allowed the dispute to get to this point. Still, the journalism professor said protesters could have made their point without resorting to violence.

“I think the Premier has no choice but to say ‘we’ll negotiate with you, but only if you respect the injunction that is in place.’ What other position can he take?” Camp asked CBC.

Brown was still on the job in Rexton Saturday night. She said people continued to protest on Routes 11 and 134.

“Most of these people are wonderful, very peaceful protestors who are just simply worried about their water and their health. And there are a couple who are choosing to get their message across violently. That’s unfortunate and we saw that today.”

Brown said the issue is at a standstill, although Elsipogtog Chief Aaron Sock and Premier David Alward are both calling for peace and a return to negotiations. People want to point fingers, but it’s not black and white, Brown said.

“The RCMP had a job to do and the protestors feel like they have a job to do. And the province feels like they have a job to do and SWN Resources feels like they have a job to do. There’re several different sides and it’s too bad because most are just trying to do their job.”

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