Indigenous

Mi'kmaw leaders considering MMIWG safety concerns tied to N.S. energy project

Mi'kmaw leaders in Nova Scotia say the safety of their communities is a "fundamental concern," but are not saying how they expect the developers of a proposed $13-billion natural gas project to ensure safety for Mi'kmaq beyond the boundaries of the work site.

Advocates from other territories warn about impacts of resource development industries

Ducie Howe, left, and a fellow Mi'kmaw activist, with a sign of protest against the proposed work camp in Goldboro, N.S., for Pieridae Energy's proposed liquified natural gas project. (Joey Brooks)

Mi'kmaw leaders in Nova Scotia say the safety of their communities is a "fundamental concern," but are not saying how they expect the developers of a proposed $13-billion natural gas project to ensure safety for Mi'kmaq beyond the boundaries of the work site.

Pieridae Energy's proposed Goldboro LNG project requires a 5,000-person work camp to build the plant on the province's eastern shore, around 50 kilometres from Paqtnkek First Nation. 

The national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) drew a link between the resource extraction industry's transient worker camps and violence against Indigenous women and called for industry to consider the safety of Indigenous women in project planning and mitigate risks.

"There is still a lot of work to be done, and many discussions to be had," the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaw Chiefs (ANSMC) said in an emailed statement to CBC News. 

"Our goal . . .  is that everything is in place to address the safety and well-being of our Mi'kmaw and Indigenous women, girls and LGBT2SQ+ community."

The group has scheduled a women's only virtual forum for June 30, the same day Pieridae is expected to make its final investment decisions on the project. Mi'kmaw communities stand to make $720 million from the project with a 51 per cent stake in the camp's hospitality and rental operations.

Sipekne'katik Chief Mike Sack says he's disappointed by other Mi'kmaw chiefs' deal with Pieridae. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

Sipekne'katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack, who is no longer a member of the ANSMC, referred to Pieridae's safety plans as "baby steps," and said while he is not against industry, he thinks harm to Mi'kmaq is inevitable.

"They can't have 5,000 people there working, there's no way to track [negative impacts]. It's just bad news," he said.

N.S. premier Iain Rankin told reporters Thursday the province expects Pieridae to address the safety concerns with the Mi'kmaq. 

"They have an agreement in place that was signed with our First Nations here," Rankin said. 

"I would expect . . . safety for everyone that's at the camp and it's something that we'll watch as a government as well."

But Connie Greyeyes, an expert witness in the MMIWG inquiry, said energy projects are harmful beyond the work site.

"We're still seeing those projects are being pushed forward without real action on how to protect the communities or even prepare them for what's about to happen," said Greyeyes, who's currently the northern case manager for MMIWG with B.C.'s Indian Residential School Survivors Society. 

Ripple effects

Greyeyes said there are still "really detrimental effects" being felt in communities in regions with heavy resource development, like northeast B.C. She highlighted those impacts in a 2016 report by Amnesty International called Out of Sight, Out of Mind.

"It's really frustrating because you put faith that [energy companies] are going to hold up their end . . .  to keep communities and the women and girls and the boys safe," she said. 

"Then you realize quickly that their policies are actually not helpful." 

Connie Greyeyes, an expert witness on resource extraction for the MMIWG inquiry, says she'd urge Mi'kmaw communities to examine statistics on previous projects in Canada to 'really study potential impacts' in their territory. (Submitted by Connie Greyeyes)

In addition to dealing with the immediate effects of sexual violence, Greyeyes said, the ripple effects of resource projects can ravage a community's social programs in areas like mental health and addictions.

She's urging Mi'kmaw community members to study impact reports from previous projects.

'I wish we would have known'

Martina Saunders, of York Factory First Nation in Manitoba, spent eight years in the energy sector and is now an advocate for those who've faced sexual violence within the oil and gas industry.

"I wish we would have known what was to come from partnering with a hydro project," Saunders said.

Martina Saunders is a former energy sector professional. (Submitted/Martina Saunders)

In 2017, Saunders resigned from her job with Manitoba Hydro's Keeyask generating station. A 2018 report on the impacts of of hydro projects in northern Manitoba over the last 50 years found allegations of sexual abuse by the utility's transient workers among First Nations.

Saunders said third-party oversight of conduct policies and law enforcement specific to the camps should be required.

"Policies are just a piece of paper," she said. "There has to be action, it has to be properly funded and it has to include an Indigenous perspective." 

In a statement emailed June 16 to CBC News, a spokesperson for Pieridae said the company is preparing information sessions, culturally relevant awareness training, camp safety and security protocols and a "REDress" installation at the entrance to the camp.

It said the company has a code of conduct for its employees and should the project go ahead, the company would reach out to local law enforcement organizations.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nic Meloney

Videojournalist

Nic Meloney is a mixed heritage Wolastoqi video journalist raised on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia/Mi'kma'ki. Email him at nic.meloney@cbc.ca or follow him on Twitter @nicmeloney.

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