Elsipogtog First Nation mourns Warrior Chief John Levi, who fought shale gas exploration

John Levi was a Mi'kmaw warrior chief for his community of Elsipogtog First Nation.  (submitted by Toby Augustine - image credit)
John Levi was a Mi'kmaw warrior chief for his community of Elsipogtog First Nation. (submitted by Toby Augustine - image credit)

The death of Mi'kmaw Warrior Chief John Levi has left his home community, Elsipogtog First Nation, in mourning, but his friends hope his legacy is long lasting.

Levi died Sunday in the community, 56 kilometres north of Moncton, after a long battle with cancer. He was 54.

He leaves behind his wife Toby Augustine, children and grandchildren.

"There's going to be a void," said his longtime friend and cousin Kenneth Francis.

Levi is most known as a water protector and land defender who fought against shale gas exploration in New Brunswick.

In 2013, Texas-based Southwestern Energy (SWN) was exploring the viability of the shale gas industry in the province, but many environmental advocates — including many people from nearby Elsipogtog — felt the environmental harm outweighed any economic benefits.

Levi was one of 12 people arrested at a demonstration and later pleaded guilty to obstructing a peace officer, for interfering when an RCMP officer was trying to make an arrest. He was handed a five-month conditional sentence and ordered to stay away from the SWN site.

He was hailed by his community for his leadership throughout the conflict, and was appointed a warrior chief by the nation.

Following the conflict with SWN, Levi, Augustine, Kenneth Francis and his sister Serena Francis formed the Kopit Lodge, a grassroots group focusing on protecting the land and water throughout Mi'kma'ki (Mi'kmaw territory).

"He truly believed that we are owners of our land and that we should benefit from the use of our land," said Kenneth Francis.

For Serena Francis, Levi was her hero.

"The big part of that was the loving, the passion that he had for Toby and their family but also the love he has for Elsipogtog," she said.

"He was an excellent role model and I am hoping that some people saw this and they would strive to follow his footsteps."

'The most friendliest guy ever'

In addition to being an advocate for the land and water, Levi was an avid hunter and fisher. He often took his nieces and nephews, including his godson, along with him.

John Levi/Facebook
John Levi/Facebook

"He was a really kind man," said his sister Charlene Labobe.

"You would look at him, think he was being mean and grumpy, but he was like the most friendliest guy ever."

Labobe said her brother volunteered a lot and would fundraise for the community's freezer, where residents could pick up moose meat when needed.

Levi also took action on issues in his community like drugs, Mi'kmaw sovereignty, and exercising his right to fish.

"He really contributed a lot to our community," said Teagan Copage, a councillor with Elsipogtog First Nation.

"Our Mi'kmaw Nation lost a great leader and a strong warrior."

Levi's funeral will be held Saturday in Elsipogtog.