Indigenous

Report shares First Nations women's experiences at East Coast land defence camps

A new report shares the stories of Wolastoqew and Mi'kmaw women against resource extraction projects such as the Sisson Mine in New Brunswick and the Alton Gas project in Nova Scotia.

Sharing circle aimed to create a space for women to get together and reflect, says report author

The Shubenacadie River in Nova Scotia in 2016. (Shawn Maloney)

A new report shares the stories of Wolastoqew and Mi'kmaw women against resource extraction projects such as the Sisson Mine in New Brunswick and the Alton Gas project in Nova Scotia.

The authors of the report spoke with eight Mi'kmaw women and three Wolastoqew women who were part of a sharing circle that took place in January 2020. 

The Alton Gas project at Alton, N.S., about 60 kilometres north of Halifax, proposes to store up to 10 billion cubic feet of natural gas in underground caverns created by using water from the Shubenacadie River to flush out natural salt deposits. The Sisson Mine project proposes a $579-million open-pit tungsten and molybdenum mine 80 kilometres northwest of Fredericton. 

The report's author, Sherry Pictou, honorary district chief for the Confederacy of Mainland Mi'kmaw and an assistant professor and Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Governance at Dalhousie University in Halifax, notes many of the recommendations in the final report of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls involve resource extraction projects. 

Pictou said the purpose of the project was to create a space for women to get together and reflect on what they've been through, since they don't have an official seat at any table. 

Sherry Pictou, honorary district chief for the Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaw, and assistant professor that holds the Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Governance at Dalhousie University in Halifax. (Submitted by Sherry Pictou)

She said the women reported being "quite intimidated by people that had been promised jobs by the corporations themselves, and by government through various different ways." 

"It just seemed to me that this has been a long process, and no matter what those processes were, they were not going to allow these women to have an input." 

Terry Sappier from Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick told the sharing circle that about eight to 10 men parked on four-wheelers above their camp at the Sisson Mine project, and sat drinking beer and watching them, "trying to intimidate us."

Terry Sappier was part of the sharing circle documenting stories. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Sappier also said someone drove into their camp with a gun after the Department of Natural Resources said no to her request to put up 'no hunting' signs. 

"I immediately ran out, started taking pictures, he turned around. Wouldn't show his face. That's how women protect themselves. Put a phone backwards, with the camera facing out. As soon as they see the camera, they'll ask you to turn it around," said Sappier in the report. 

Women said in the report that when RCMP showed up at the camp, the women handed them a phone with their lawyer on the call, ready to speak to authorities. They said this was how they protected themselves, as they were mostly women, the report stated. 

Recommendations from the report

One recommendation the women had moving forward would be giving water systems personhood rights. 

"It's something that we need to seriously take into consideration, because there's no one speaking for the land or speaking for the water," said Pictou.

Personhood rights for water systems would align with the women's work to protect ancestral lands and water bodies from over-exploitation and be a way to offset legal inequities, according to the report. Restoring ancestral governance systems would also be important and Pictou said the women have also started to research Indigenous laws and protocols that could offer protection.

KAIROS Canada, a joint venture ecumenical program administered by the United Church of Canada, and Pictou have created the Mother Earth Resource Extraction (MERE) Hub, an online platform that provides research about the gendered impacts of resource extraction industries in Canada, North America and Latin America. 

The province of Nova Scotia was unavailable for comment on this story.

The province of New Brunswick told CBC News it had no comment at the time of publishing. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Renée Lilley is a reporter for CBC Indigenous. She is a recent University of Winnipeg grad with a BA in rhetoric and communications. She has reported on radio and online news in her hometown of Portage la Prairie. She is also a proud Métis mama of four girls.

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