Current Problems

Treaties and Land Claims

10 years after RCMP raided N.B. anti-fracking camp, Aboriginal title claim ongoing

October 13, 2023

‘If they … really got into the heart of the problem, I think we wouldn’t have this kind of protesting’

RCMP officers on the left, shale gas opponents on the right.
RCMP officers line up in front of shale gas protesters on Route 134 in Rexton, N.B., on Oct. 17, 2013. (Jen Choi/CBC)

CBC Indigenous: It may have been 10 years ago, but members of Elsipogtog First Nation who were on the frontline when the RCMP raided an anti-fracking encampment near Rexton, N.B., say the events of that day are still fresh in their memories.

“You kind of have to remember and go through all of those feelings again, all of those scared feelings and kind of relive it,” said Amanda Polchies, a Lakota Sioux and Mi’kmaw woman from Elsipogtog, about 50 kilometres north of Moncton.

Polchies was among many from her community to join anti-shale gas demonstrations during the summer of 2013.

Texas-based SWN Resources was testing the viability of a shale gas industry in New Brunswick. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, fires a pressurized mixture of sand, water and chemicals into the shale bed to break loose the gas embedded in the rock kilometres underground.

Opponents, including many Mi’kmaq, feared fracking would contaminate land and groundwater. On Oct. 17, 2013, the RCMP moved to enforce a court order to remove an encampment set up to slow SWN’s progress.

Doris Copage, a Mi’kmaw elder from Elsipogtog, remembers the moment she was pepper-sprayed. “I think the only thing that saved me was my glasses,” said Copage, 76. “It just got me a little bit, but it still hurt.”

An Indigenous elder sits comfortabley at her home
Doris Copage remembers being pepper-sprayed by the RCMP 10 years ago. (Oscar Baker III/CBC)

Copage said she approached the police to show them all she had was her rosaries and to explain they were unarmed. However, she said she was deeply unsettled to see guns pointed at the crowd.

Memories of that day, including the smell of burned rubber and plastic from the non-lethal ammunition the RCMP used to disperse the crowd, linger with Polchies.  “It’s like you could feel it on your skin — like there was a layer of it, like crud on you ’cause all of the smoke and everything that was going on,” Polchies said.

An Indigenous woman wearing a red hoodie.
Amanda Polchies, a Lakota Sioux and Mi’kmaw woman from Elsipogtog First Nation, faced down RCMP officers at the protest site holding a feather. (Oscar Baker III/CBC)

Polchies was among 40 people arrested that day. She would serve an eight-month house arrest sentence. 

In 2020, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission released its review of the RCMP’s conduct during the 2013 raid. There were more than 20 complaints of excessive force, but the commission found officers acted in “measured force.”

RCMP cruisers a blaze at the site of the 2013 clash.
An RCMP cruiser and another unmarked vehicle burn near the shale gas protest in Rexton, N.B. on Oct. 17, 2013. (Courtesy of Gilles Boudreau)

In an emailed statement to CBC Indigenous, a spokesperson for New Brunswick RCMP said they are working to repair relations with Indigenous communities, including considering recommendations to honour ceremonial items.

“Since the protests in 2013, the N.B. RCMP has continued to make strides as a division to foster, build and strengthen relationships with our Indigenous communities,” Cpl. Hans J. Ouellette said in an emailed statement. “In all we do, we aim to promote acceptance, respect and appreciation of diverse experiences.” 

LISTEN | Amanda Polchies talks about the iconic photo 

Unreserved: 8:10

The woman in iconic anti-fracking photo calls it a ‘middle finger’ to the industryWhen Amanda Polchies decided to go to an anti-fracking protest near Rexton, N.B. in 2013, she didn’t expect to become the subject of an image that would be seen around the world.

Click on the following link to listen to “Unreserved”

‘It’s our land’

In December 2013, the resource company withdrew, a sign to Polchies and others that they had won the fight.

“It still amazes me what we did, ” she said. “We all stood up and we were heard.” 

Mi’kmaq leaders say both the company and province failed in their duty to consult, and they’re fighting to ensure that doesn’t happen again. After the conflict with SWN, Elsipogtog leadership launched Kopit Lodge in 2014, an organization that deals with all resource development plans around Elsipogtog.

In 2016, the lodge along with Chief Arren Sock launched an Aboriginal title claim for Sikniktuk, a traditional district that makes up a third of the province of New Brunswick.

An Indigenous man poses in front of the old water tower.
Kenneth Francis is a spokesperson for the Kopit Lodge. (Oscar Baker III/CBC )

“We’ve been shouting from the mountaintops or from the treetops as long as I could remember: ‘It’s our land.’ And we continue to watch people walk over it and do anything that they want to do with it,” said Kenneth Francis, 78, a speaker for Kopit Lodge and a plaintiff on the title claim.

He said he sees Aboriginal title as a way to issue injunctions of their own if the Mi’kmaq aren’t properly consulted on resource projects. He would rather see the Mi’kmaq at the table as projects are planned, not after they’ve begun.

“If they did their due diligence and really got into the heart of the problem, I think we wouldn’t have this kind of protesting and confrontations,” said Francis.

Francis said since filing for Aboriginal title, consultation with the federal government has improved.

The Government of Canada and Elsipogtog signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in 2019. But a spokesperson for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada said in an emailed statement that the bilateral MOU recognizes provincial participation is needed to fully address Elsipogtog First Nation’s section 35 rights “as much of the claim area filed through the litigation is provincial Crown land.”

The New Brunswick government said it wouldn’t comment on Aboriginal title while some cases are before the courts.

A Mi'kmaw chief holding up an eagle wing at a press conference.
Elsipogtog First Nation Chief Arren Sock says the N.B. government needs to respect Indigenous governance.(Kevin Bissett/The Canadian Press)

Sock said discussions with the provincial government regarding Aboriginal title have been stagnant. “There seems to be an unwillingness to even start those conversations,” Sock said.

“The provincial government has to basically realize that the governments of Indigenous communities are as legitimate, as powerful as the provincial government themselves.” 


Oscar Baker III

Oscar Baker III is a Black and Mi’kmaw reporter from Elsipogtog First Nation. He is the Atlantic region reporter for CBC Indigenous. He is a proud father and you can follow his work @oggycane4lyfe