Nova Scotia

RCMP investigate racist letter sent to Pictou Landing chief

The chief of Pictou Landing First Nation says she can no longer stay quiet about the racism she's faced after receiving a threatening letter last week that police are now investigating. 

‘It doesn't stop. It just continues and it's absolutely terrifying,’ says Chief Andrea Paul

Chief Andrea Paul thanked the Black Lives Matter movement for giving her the courage to speak out about the racist threats she's endured. (CBC)

The chief of Pictou Landing First Nation in northern Nova Scotia says she can no longer stay silent about the racism she's faced after receiving a threatening letter last week that police are now investigating. 

The letter addressed to Chief Andrea Paul was sent to her office on July 10. 

It includes a drawing of an Indigenous person and a Black person hanging from a tree. Underneath it reads, in part, "this is what I think of about Natives and Blacks. You think you rule the world."

On Friday, Paul shared a photo of the letter on Facebook, but said it's far from the only racist attack to which she's been subjected in recent months.

"It doesn't stop," Paul told CBC's Information Morning on Monday. "It just continues and it's absolutely terrifying."

Nova Scotia RCMP say officers found out about the letter through social media on Friday. They contacted Paul and opened an investigation. 

"The content of the letter is unacceptable," spokesperson Cpl. Jennifer Clarke said in an email to CBC News. 

Pictou Landing First Nation fought for years to have the Boat Harbour treatment facility at Northern Pulp's mill in Abercrombie shut down. For decades, the facility sent effluent into the harbour that surrounds the community.

The mill itself shut down on Jan. 31 after Premier Stephen McNeil refused to allow the treatment facility to continue to operate past a legislated deadline.

Paul said she's tried to ignore the online hatred directed toward her, and other members of the Pictou Landing First Nation, throughout the saga with Northern Pulp.

But since December, she said comments she's received online have made her fear for her life.

"It was the first time I was absolutely terrified, and it's not a good feeling," she said. 

Online threat made in December

Clarke said police were contacted by Paul in January about a threat that was made against her online on Dec. 31.

"We identified and interviewed potential suspects; worked with Chief Paul to help assess the risk to her and her family; and ensured that her family, who resided in a different part of the province, was contacted and monitored by the local detachment," Clarke said.

But Paul said she was also told to just ignore "the keyboard warriors" who were threatening her.

Chief Andrea Paul from the Pictou Landing First Nation has been using her platform to speak up about racism she's dealt with over the years, including a disturbing letter she received recently that has sparked an RCMP investigation. 9:49

"The last comment was when I was told, 'Just don't say anything,' like basically stop posting on Facebook and stop upsetting everyone," Paul said. "And that's when I realized, again, I'm being silenced, I'm being told the easiest way to deal with this is just don't say anything."

Clarke said an officer with the Pictou District RCMP spoke with Paul in January about "how to mitigate the risk to her safety."

It creates that feeling inside of me of it doesn't matter, I don't matter.​​​- Chief Andrea Paul, Pictou Landing First Nation

"He provided her with advice that we would normally provide to members of the public when we respond to complaints of threats related to social media activity," Clarke said.

Paul didn't report last week's letter to the RCMP, but she knew she couldn't keep quiet about it.

"Doing that all of these years doesn't help me," she said. "All it does is it internalizes inside of me, and it creates that feeling inside of me of it doesn't matter, I don't matter, and that's not the message we want to give to all people who are struggling with this type of abuse."

Faced racism from an early age

Paul has been battling racism since she was in elementary school. 

"From an early age I was called a squaw from another classmate, a young boy. I didn't know what it meant. I just knew that it wasn't something that is acceptable," she said.

She was told to stop speaking Mi'kmaq and was sent to the office if she did. Then, in university, she experienced even more "in-my-face racism," that was often violent and perpetuated by men, she said.

It drove her to quit school in her third year.

"It took me 12 years before I could go back and finish my degree, my undergrad degree," Paul said. 

Paul attended a Black Lives Matter protest in New Glasgow recently, and thanked the movement for giving her the courage to expose the hate she's endured.

"I realized that what I had to say was important and that there was a lot of support out there and not everyone thinks the same way," she said. "That was, I guess, my moment in realizing that I don't need to put up with this. I don't need to say it's OK."

With files from CBC's Information Morning