Indigenous

Sipekne'katik First Nation to hold duty-to-consult law symposium

A Mi'kmaw woman who hopes the 2020 Alton Gas ruling has changed the duty to consult on development projects is organizing a law symposium to ensure community members are aware of those changes. 

Event aimed at examining impact of Alton Gas decision on duty-to-consult

Cheryl Maloney, a consultant for the Sipekne'katik Governance Initiative, said she hopes the conference can inform band members of any legal changes to the duty to consult. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

A Mi'kmaw woman who hopes the 2020 Alton Gas ruling has changed the duty to consult on development projects is organizing a law symposium to ensure community members are aware of those changes. 

Cheryl Maloney, consultant for the Sipekne'katik Governance Initiative, said when the Mi'kmaq and the crown signed the Peace and Friendship treaties, it was on a basis of consent. But she said she feels that with past resource development projects the Crown tried to undermine that. 

The Alton Gas project had planned to create underground caverns by using water from the Shubenacadie River to flush out nearby natural salt deposits, in order to store up to 10 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

The resource company and the province of Nova Scotia argued an environmental assessment met the standard for consulting with the Mi'kmaq, but a judge ruled in 2020 that the province failed to meet consultation requirements around Aboriginal title and treaty. In 2021, the Alton Gas project was cancelled. 

Maloney said the ruling changes the way her nation will see the duty-to-consult and is holding an online conference Saturday to inform community members of Sipekne'katik First Nation, about 68 kilometres north of Halifax, of those changes. 

"If we're going to uphold and protect our rights and sometimes fight for our rights, we should have the tools to do that," said Maloney.

The conference will feature Mi'kmaw lawyers Naiomi Metallic and Rosalie Francis and Bruce McIvor of First Peoples Law, among others. 

Maloney said the governance initiative is an effort to include community members in decision making on major projects the community is facing.

Sipekne'katik chief and council could not be reached for comment.

Marilynn-Leigh Francis, Kespu'kwitk district chief, said she hopes while people learn more about treaty rights they still remember their responsibility to the ancestors. (submitted by Marilynn-Leigh Francis)

Marilynn-Leigh Francis, the traditional district chief of Kespu'kwitk, a district on the south border of Sipekne'katik, said it's important to be informed. 

"I think it's important for our people to be aware of our rights so we can finally come from a place of being self-sustaining," said Francis, who identifies as L'nu, the Mi'kmaw word for a person of the land.

She said she's hopeful while people learn more of how traditional treaties relate to Canadian law, they will remember their responsibility to the ancestors. 

"It's a matter of respecting our resources and our people," said Francis.

She said she hopes as more communities consider community-based decision making that they also remember the ancestors worked as one nation and were stronger collectively. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Oscar Baker III is a Black and Mi’kmaw reporter from Elsipogtog First Nation. He is the Atlantic region reporter for CBC Indigenous. He is a proud father and you can follow his work @oggycane4lyfe

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