(photo source: Joanne Dussault)
By Joseph Quesnel, AIMS Fellow
This past Monday, First Nations in Nova Scotia celebrated the 30th annual Treaty Day celebration. Mi’kmaq chiefs promoted the ideas of reconciliation between the provincial government and Indigenous communities. In particular, progress was noted on the education file where Mi’kmaq culture and history were better integrated into the school system.
On this important occasion, bands across Atlantic Canada should heed the words of other First Nations who have learned to balance the pressing need for economic development in the resource sector with environmental protection.
Recently, Sipekne’katik band members near Stewiacke, N.S staged a sit-on in an area where Calgary-based AltaGas plans to store natural gas in three underground caverns near Shubenacadie River. The protesters are concerned about the release of brine in that river.
The government conducted years of consultation and environmental review with the local Indigenous group, as well as with neighbouring residents. Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil also said he was quite satisfied that the Crown had met its obligation to consult the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia.
It seems bands all over Atlantic Canada have adopted a default position of opposing projects outright in the oil and gas sector even when they are the result of extensive consultation. Some bands in Nova Scotia have even expressed concerns with potential tidal power projects. In New Brunswick, this comes in immediate opposition to new shale gas exploration and new mining projects.
Atlantic chiefs should listen to bands attending a conference recently concluded in Calgary, Alta by the Indian Resource Council that focused on breaking the pipeline logjam among Indigenous communities.
“The energy industry has allowed our people a ladder to employment, to partnerships,” said Blaine Favel, conference chair. “We have to balance our concern for the protection of Mother Earth and our opportunity to protect our children and relatives that need to work today.”
Nova Scotia communities who celebrated Treaty Day should try to find this balance and be realistic in their conditions. Otherwise, they are missing their chance at prosperity.