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NS Supreme Court rules against Mi'kmaq water protectors, but the struggle is far from over

A temporary injunction handed down by a judge on Monday orders relocation of the site of the occupation to an area designated by Alton Gas

by Stacey Gomez

March towards NS Environment. Photo: Stacey Gomez
March towards NS Environment. Photo: Stacey Gomez
Michelle Paul addresses supporters on the steps of the NS Legislature. Photo: Stacey Gomez
Michelle Paul addresses supporters on the steps of the NS Legislature. Photo: Stacey Gomez

On March 18th, 100 people gathered outside of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court in downtown Halifax to await a decision on an interim injunction against water protectors defending the Sipekne’katik (Shubenacadie) River.

Since 2017, Mi’kmaq water protectors have had a permanent encampment along the Sipekne’katik River near Stewiake, Nova Scotia which has effectively halted Alton Gas' controversial natural gas storage project from going forward. The project poses a significant threat to the ecological health of the river ecosystem, as well as the health and livelihoods of the Mi'kmaq people, say opponents of the project.

Asserting their rights under Peace and Friendship treaties, Mi’kmaq water protectors established a Treaty Camp and Truckhouse at the entrance of the work site for the project.

A temporary injunction handed down by a judge on Monday orders Mi'kmaq water protector Dale Andrew Poulette and supporter Rachael Greenland-Smith to relocate the site of the occupation to an area designated by Alton Gas.

Following the ruling, Mi’kmaq water protectors Dorene Bernard and Michelle Paul addressed the crowd of supporters gathered outside of the court, emphasizing the need for continued resistance to the project.

“The womb of our mother is our first world. Surrounded by water, we drink the water, we breath the water, we are the water and then we are born through the water. We honour our sacred responsibility for this gift by protecting the water in our mother earth, for our children, our grandchildren and all future generations,” said Bernard.

Bernard is one of several Mi’kmaq grandmothers who served an eviction notice to Alton Gas in early March. Their press release indicated, “Mi'kmaq rights holders have never given permission for Alton Gas to operate in their territory...” In January 2017, the Nova Scotia Supreme Court ruled that Sipekne’katik First Nation had not been properly consulted during the environmental assessment process for the project. The issue was referred back to Nova Scotia's Minister of Environment, however, has yet to be resolved.

Mi'kmaq water protectors and their supporters marched to the office of Nova Scotia Environment to demonstrate their opposition to the project. There, Bernard and Paul led a group in singing the Strong Woman Song.

Sakura Saunders, a supporter and one of the organizers of the protest, explained that Nova Scotia Environment is “the main organization that has not being doing their job of protecting the environment or even forcing corporation Alton Gas (AltaGas subsidiary) to follow their own current regulations.” She indicated that “this project is in contravention with the Fisheries Act,” and that the federal government is “making new laws to allow this project to take place.”

The project would entail the creation of salt caverns for the storage of natural gas and, once it begins operating at full capacity, it is expected to pump up to 10,000 cubic meters of brine per day into the Sipekne’katik River.

The federal government announced in late February that it would be developing regulations under the Fisheries Act for the project's proposed brine release. Alton Gas' plan to discharge brine into the river goes against current regulations.

From there, the group marched to the Nova Scotia Legislature to voice their opposition to the project to the provincial government.

On the front steps of the building, Paul emphasized the need for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to engage in this struggle, noting that we all need water to survive.

The hearing for a permanent injunction sought by Alton Gas is set to take place on April 4th.

Supporters are organizing a Spaghetti Lunch and Silent Auction fundraiser for the legal defense of Mi'kmaq water protectors on Sunday, March 24th, 1pm at the High Tides Art and Community Centre in Maitland.

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