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Updated: Thu, 20 Jun 2013 16:02:43 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Former First Nations leader urges peace in shale gas debate



Former First Nations leader urges peace in shale gas debate

A former First Nations leader says both sides in the shale gas development controversy should cool off before tensions get even worse.

Susan Levi-Peters, who once was chief of the Elsipogtog band, says the growing number of protesters and police at demonstrations in Kent County is a cause for concern.

Carrying a peace and treaty medallion from the 1700s, she showed up at the legislature in Fredericton on Wednesday with a plea for Premier David Alward to intervene and bring all the parties together.

"I've been at those protests and what I'm scared of is that there will be a casualty soon if something doesn't happen, if it's not stopped," said Levi-Peters.

"And it's only escalating, the RCMP are getting more aggressive, and the protest is getting more big. So what you're going to have is a big confrontation pretty soon."

Twenty people have been arrested so far this month at protests along Highway 126 near Harcourt, where SWN Resources Canada is conducting seismic testing.

Protests could hurt First Nations

Lawyer Kelly Lamrock, who represents the Assembly of First Nations Chiefs in New Brunswick, says there's another reason to ask for calm.

The chiefs are concerned about the consequences of non-natives protesting fracking on aboriginal lands, he said.

Illegal demonstrations and arrests could affect any potential deals between the poverty-stricken First Nations communities and the industry, said Lamrock.

Although protection of the environment is a primary concern, before condemning the industry outright, the chiefs want to be fully informed of the risks and benefits, he said.

"That ability to review is essential even if one wanted to stop fracking dead. It would be absolutely reckless and irresponsible for the chiefs not to exercise the constitutional First Nations right to have those studies done so they can be used."

The Assembly of First Nations Chiefs in New Brunswick has said First Nations would only work with government and industries that care for the environment and will develop resources responsibly with them.

Chiefs want fair share

Chiefs want to be at the table to ensure their concerns are heard, said assembly co-chair George Ginnish of Eel Ground.

They are also looking for an across-the-board share in any future developments, said Ginnish.

"New Brunswick has $11.8 billion worth of resource-related projects on the horizon and we're going to be at the table, we're going to have our say about that," he told CBC News.

"Our communities need an economic foundation and a percentage of all those developments should be put in trust for our children and our children's children. Many of these are non-renewable resources, we get one chance to get this right and we've got to do the diligence."

The chief of St. Mary's First Nations in Fredericton says the assembly should be calling for a four-day moratorium on shale gas exploration until aboriginal people talk about what they want out of the industry and what's important to them.

Candice Paul, who is not a member of the assembly, is also calling on the leaders to come to the protests and hear from people on the ground.

"Come and hear the grassroots people, go to the sacred fire, listen to the people, what they're saying," she said.

"There's too many what ifs, maybes and they need to come and hear the people. They need to come and stand with the people and listen to their concerns. That's what they're voted in for and they need to listen."

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