Amy Sock shows bruises on her arms that she says were inflicted by the RCMP during Thursday's confrontation on the protest line. Stephen Puddicombe/CBC
The Assembly of First Nations' Chiefs in New Brunswick is calling for the provincial government to revoke shale gas exploration permits issued to energy companies until a peaceful solution to the dispute can be negotiated.
Assembly co-chair George Ginnish says such a step would be part of the "cooling off period" agreed to last week between Elsipogtog Chief Aaron Sock and Premier David Alward in the wake of Thursday's violent protest confrontation in Rexton.
"We have been saying that this process has been rushed from Day 1," said Ginnish, chief of Eel Ground First Nation. "There is concern in many areas, not just the First Nations.
"We have a cooling off period and we think part of that cooling off period needs to involve getting back to the table and looking at the concerns we have had from the start."
Up until now, the Assembly of New Brunswick Chiefs has maintained a more neutral position in the shale gas debate.
Speaking at a news conference in Elsipogtog on Monday, Sock thanked the Assembly for the new-found support and encouraged people to peacefully press for a halt to exploration.
"We are peaceful people and what we want is to protect the water for all of us," said Sock. "I encourage everyone who cares about the land to keep making your voices heard in a safe, loving and yet loud voice, if need be."
On Thursday, 40 protesters were arrested in Rexton after RCMP moved in on the encampment they had established on Sept. 30.
Some of the arrested protesters were held in custody through the weekend because of concern over revived protests. They have court appearances scheduled for Monday afternoon.
SWN Resources Canada has been exploring for potential shale gas development sites under a permit issued by the province. But beginning Sept. 30, a coalition of native and non-native protesters blockaded the company's seismic exploration trucks in a compound used by the company off Route 134.
The vehicles and equipment remained under control of the protesters until Thursday, when it was freed by the RCMP action. SWN Resources had earlier told a Court of Queen's Bench hearing that the blockade of equipment was costing it $60,000 a day.
On Monday afternoon, a Court of Queen's Bench judge in Moncton is scheduled to rule on SWN Resources' motion requesting a permanent injunction to prevent protest actions from impeding exploration efforts.
The protesters are concerned about any potential impact of shale gas extraction on the groundwater supply. The gas is accessed through hydraulic fracturing, which involves injecting a mixture of sand, chemicals and water into the earth under high pressure to fracture shale rock and release gas held within the shale that is otherwise inaccessible.
Ginnish says it's time for the provincial government to consult with the aboriginal community about shale gas development.
"We've been telling the government of New Brunswick the consultation process hasn't been working for three years," said Ginnish.
"We need time and information to understand how the industry will affect our rights," he said.
"Our people are unconvinced the industry is actually safe."
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