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Mi’Kmaq and the Government on Alton Gas Project: Collision Course?

by Ken Summers

UPDATE: The Nova Scotia Energy Minister is making announcements about the Alton Gas project at a news conference tomorrow morning [Thursday]. Stay tuned...

The provincial government, Alton Gas Storage, and the Mi’Kmaq Rights Initiative [KMKNO] have been consulting for several months over the impact of the project which proposes to store natural gas in caverns hollowed out of salt deposits near Stewiacke.

In a very recently released newsletter, the KMKNO has essentially given the project their approval for it to proceed, and closed by saying:

"As it stands, with studies now complete and conditions
having been met, it is expected that the Province will likely
make a decision to approve this project in the coming weeks."

Sipekne'katik First Nation, near Shubenacadie, is not a member of Mi’Kmaq Rights Initiative, and therefore KMKNO does not consult on its behalf. The government agrees that it is therefore required under “duty to consult” to have direct consultations with Sipekne'katik.

Sipekne'katik First Nation maintains that there has been very little consultation with the government to date, and none with the proponent Alton Gas.

So this author was puzzled about, and skeptical, of the KMKNO statement above that government was expected to approve the project in the “coming weeks.” Would the provincial government really risk going ahead without meaningful consultation with Sipekne'katik, the Mi’Kmaq First Nation whose traditional territory includes where the proposed sites of the Alton Gas Storage project?

The province’s Energy Department has played the lead role in consultations, and is tasked with answering questions from journalists. When asked about consultations with Sipekne'katik First Nation, spokespersons will only say that consultations are ‘ongoing’.

When asked directly to comment on the KMKNO saying that the provincial government is expected to issue approvals for Alton Gas soon, the Energy Department spokesperson did not dodge the question: “Government expects to make decisions with regards to the Industrial Approval and other provincial permits soon.”

The Industrial Approval in question actually has to come from the Environment Department, which often has its own approach on its role. But questions to that department indicate that the government has all hands ready to go on this. Their succinct response: “We hope to make a decision on the application [for the Industrial Approval] soon.”

Yesterday, Halifax Media Coop journalist Miles Howe broke the story of the joint letter from the Chiefs of Sipekne'katik and Millbrook First Nations. While unlike Sipekne'katik, Millbrook is a member of the Mi’Kmaq Rights Initiative, the two chiefs chart an entirely different course for their communities and expectations of consultations with the Province. It is an understatement to say that they do not see the government’s duty to consult as discharged. The chiefs’ joint letter flatly contradicts the KMKNO newsletter that essentially gives government the green light to proceed

Is this issue headed for a 'collision course', especially with the Mi’Kmaq treaty rights organization KMKNO standing back, but in practice and counter-intuitively supporting the government side?

We shall see. And soon apparently.

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