No pipe protest forg­ing new al­liances

First Na­tions no longer alone in bat­tle over ef­flu­ent


“There is an irony here,” says Mi’kmaq his­to­rian Daniel Paul as he talks about ral­lies to stop North­ern Pulp from pump­ing its treated ef­flu­ent into the Northum­ber­land Strait. “If they all care so much now, why didn’t they come for­ward 50 years ago?”

A broad spec­trum of fish­er­mens’ groups, en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists and con­cerned ci­ti­zens have joined to­gether un­der the NOPIPE ban­ner to force the fed­eral govern­ment to step in and or­der a larger sci­en­tific re­view of the pulp mill’s plan. For many though, the only choice is to stop it.

But decades ago, there were only the voices of the First Na­tions com­mu­nity that could be heard in op­po­si­tion.

Back in 1981 Chief Ray­mond Fran­cis walked into Daniel Paul’s of­fice and said he wanted to sue the province.

Fran­cis was chief of the Pic­tou Land­ing First Na­tion that had watched the salt­wa­ter la­goon be­hind the com­mu­nity poi­soned by the ef­flu­ent piped into it from the kraft pulp mill at Aber­crom­bie Point.

Paul was the dis­trict su­per­in­ten­dent for the then De­part­ment of In­dian and North­ern Af­fairs.

“I told him you are go­ing af­ter the wrong peo­ple be­cause the ti­tle of re­serve lands is vested in the fed­eral crown,” re­called Paul.

In ef­fect, Paul told the chief to sue his own boss — the fed­eral govern­ment.

Ul­ti­mately, along with a $35-mil­lion set­tle­ment the fed­eral govern­ment ac­cepted that it had failed in its fidu­ciary re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect the Pic­tou Land­ing First Na­tion from a broad based cam­paign by pro­vin­cial and mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cials to get it to ac­cept the ef­flu­ent from the kraft pulp mill built at Aber­crom­bie Point.

As part of the dis­cov­ery process the court case heard from the com­mu­nity el­ders who told of how they feared reprisals from the broader white com­mu­nity if they stood against a project that would bring jobs to Pic­tou County.

“Just imag­ine what the pub­lic re­ac­tion would have been against th­ese al­ready racially op­pressed peo­ple if they had said no, thus pre­vent­ing the es­tab­lish­ment of an in­dus­try which had the po­ten­tial to em­ploy, ei­ther di­rectly or in­di­rectly, thou­sands of nonIn­di­ans,” wrote Paul in his his­tory book We Were Not the Sav­ages.

It wasn’t un­til the pipe car­ry­ing un­treated ef­flu­ent to Boat Har­bour rup­tured in June 2014 and the band block­aded the site that the pro­vin­cial govern­ment was forced to ne­go­ti­ate a clo­sure of the treat­ment site.

Now work was un­der­way clean­ing up the Boat Har­bour treat­ment site, which is owned by the province and leased to the mill, in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the 2020 clo­sure date en­shrined in leg­is­la­tion as part of the deal that saw the band lift its block­ade.

“Right smack in the mid­dle of where we fish lob­ster,” said fish­eries di­rec­tor Wayne Denny of where North­ern Pulp’s new pro­posed pipe will “dif­fuse” its treated ef­flu­ent into the Northum­ber­land Strait.

“They killed ev­ery­thing be­hind us and now they’re go­ing to kill ev­ery­thing in front of us,” said Denny.

The irony for Pic­tou Land­ing, which owns 22 lob­ster li­cences and 420,000 pounds of crab quota, is the deal that will see Boat Har­bour re­me­di­ated will now see the ef­flu­ent treated on shore and pumped into the strait.

And there’s not a lot of trust for the prom­ises from the mill that the new pipe won’t harm a fish­ery that di­rectly em­ploys 70 com­mu­nity mem­bers sea­son­ally and brings in about $4 mil­lion in gross rev­enues.

Those num­bers don’t in­clude the six lob­ster li­cences pri­vately held by com­mu­nity mem­bers.

Denny doesn’t take re­as­sur­ance from the re­quire­ment that North­ern Pulp get an en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment for the pro­posed re­place­ment ef­flu­ent treat­ment plant.

And Paul doesn’t ex­pect him or any­one in Pic­tou Land­ing to have much trust in the pro­cesses es­tab­lished by the fed­eral and pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments that are sup­posed to see sci­ence, rather than po­lit­i­cal pres­sure, be the pri­mary ar­biter of whether projects con­tinue.

“They were told they were go­ing to be able to use Boat Har­bour for re­cre­ation and swim­ming and fresh wa­ter fishing be­fore they started pump­ing that ef­flu­ent in there 50 years ago,” said Paul. “Now you’re back there telling th­ese peo­ple ‘we’re go­ing to pump the wa­ter out into the strait and there’s not go­ing to be neg­a­tive ef­fects.’ It’s rather hard to get peo­ple to be­lieve you when they have been grossly and vi­ciously lied to over and over.”

On Fri­day the lion’s share of Pic­tou Land­ing’s fleet will be join­ing the flotilla in Pic­tou Har­bour.

Many other res­i­dents plan on join­ing the land-based march.

Though his com­mu­nity fought largely alone for so long, Denny now wel­comes the sup­port of the broader non-abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­nity.

“Now it’s go­ing to af­fect them, too,” said Denny. “It’s every­body’s liveli­hood now.”


Capt. Bev­er­ley Denny is one of the Pic­tou Land­ing First Na­tion fish­ers who will take a boat to protest the pro­posed North­ern Pulp ef­flu­ent pipe.

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