10/18/2013 03:45 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

N.B. shale gas solidarity protests spread to other regions

First Nations communities in several regions of the country staged protests Friday in support of the Mi'kmaq demonstrators in Rexton, N.B., who clashed with police Thursday during a protest against shale gas exploration in the region.

More than 40 people were arrested after tensions escalated at a road block near the New Brunswick community where members of the Elsipogtog First Nation have been protesting seismic testing being conducted by SWN Resources of Canada. 

The ​natural gas exploration company wants to extract shale gas from the area using the controversial method called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The First Nations community is opposed to the project and is trying to force SWN Resources off land that it says it has a right to reclaim from the Crown.

Events turned violent when RCMP decided to enforce an injunction to end the weeks-long demonstration and fired pepper spray at protesters who were trying to push through the police line. Eight of those arrested have been charged, and the rest released.

Protests in support of the New Brunswick demonstrators began Thursday in several Ontario, Quebec and East Coast communities, including Ottawa, Montreal and Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, and spread to other parts of the country Friday.

Issues at heart of protest won't go away

On Friday, the sympathy protests began early in the morning with members of the Mohawk community in Kahnawake outside Montreal disrupting traffic on the Highway 132 approach to the Mercier Bridge. The event lasted from about 6:30 a.m. to 8 a.m., with protesters handing out information to motorists.

About 200 people had also marched through Montreal on Thursday to show their support for the Mi'kmaq and anger over the arrests. That protest included a stop in front of  RCMP headquarters.

In Nova Scotia, there were road blocks and demonstrations in several parts of the province, including Cape Breton Island, Aulds Cove and Millbrook, near a ​highway connecting Halifax to New Brunswick.

"We will be shutting the economy down, but not the people," said Jenny Marshall, one of several protesters along the Trans-Canada Highway south of Waycobah, near Baddeck on Cape Breton Island. "The people are free to go as their please. It will be the trucks we stop, the merchandise."

In Thunder Bay, Ont., a little over a dozen people gathered outside the Ontario Native Women's Association office on Friday. They lit a fire​, played drums and sang songs.

Even though he couldn't be in New Brunswick in person, Thunder Bay resident Chance King said being part of the ceremony felt like the next best thing he could do.

"Our sacred fire, sending strength to them, sending out prayers to them so that they can stay strong and continue the protest against the fracking, because it's not going to stop today, right, it's going to keep going," he said.

More demonstrations planned

First Nations people who came out to protest in different parts of the country voiced a combination of support for the land claim and resource development issues underlying the New Brunswick protest and criticism of the RCMP intervention, which some saw as heavy-handed, and the injunction that was aimed at ending the protest, which many considered unjust.

"One of the biggest strategies that has been used against us time and time again is … the divide and conquer strategy," said Robert Animikii Horton, who helped organize the Thunder Bay protest. "What we’re seeing now, since they’ve shaken the beehive, is unprecedented solidarity all across Turtle Island."

Turtle Island is the name that has historically been used by some aboriginal people to describe the continent of North America.

A solidarity protest had also taken place on Parliament Hill Thursday.

Others were planned throughout Friday afternoon and early evening in various communities in several provinces, including Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary, Halifax, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Iqaluit and Whitehorse. A demonstration was also planned for outside the Canadian Consulate in New York City.