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Fed-up Aboriginal Community Demanding Clean Up

Members of the Pictou Landing First Nation say health problems due to polluted water plague their community

by Kaley Kennedy

Aboriginal drummers perform at an event in Pt. Pleasant Park yesterday to draw attention to concerns with polluted water in Boat Harbour.
Aboriginal drummers perform at an event in Pt. Pleasant Park yesterday to draw attention to concerns with polluted water in Boat Harbour.

When Cheryl Maloney’s son was only nine months old, a doctor told her that if she didn’t move her family out of Pictou Landing, her son’s asthma would continue to worsen and he would probably need to be treated with steroids for the rest of his life.

Maloney, who is the president of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association (NSNWA), moved. But for the 565 Pictou Landing First Nation people who still live near Boat Harbour, concerns about the health impact of the Northern Pulp Nova Scotia Pulp Mill continue. The mill, located in Abercrombie Point, Pictou County, dumps its wastewater into Boat Harbour, which borders a Pictou Landing First Nation Reserve.

In 1967, the mill, then operated by Scott Maritimes, was granted permission to dump its wastewater into Boat Harbour. The government paid the people of Pictou Landing $65,000 to compensate for the dumping. In 1993, the Pictou Landing First Nation received a $35 million settlement from the Federal government and a promise to begin the clean-up process. More than 15 years later, people are still waiting for the clean up.

Fed-up, the people of Pictou Landing First Nation are determined to take action.

“The community has to take some serious action,” band advisor Kevin Christmas told a crowd gathered yesterday at Point Pleasant Park for a water walk and press conference. “Write a letter. Complain to your neighbour. Do what you need to do to make someone take action.”

The water walk and press conference were organized by the NSNWA and members of the Pictou Landing First Nation.

About 50 people gathered for the walk.  A bucket of water from the Atlantic Ocean was carried by women on the walk through Point Pleasant Park. Afterwards, participants offered tobacco in honour of water. The walk is part of a nation-wide movement by Aboriginal women to draw attention to issues with water security and water quality, especially for Aboriginal communities.

“Water is our responsibility. It’s our lifeline,” Maloney told the crowd.

Most people who spoke were frustrated by government inaction.

“The province could say they’ll clean Boat Harbour,” said Christmas, “but there is no difference between the New Democratic government and the Conservative government. They are both bought by industry.”

On May 3, Band Councillor Crystal Denny and other members of the Pictou Landing First Nation met with Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Bill Estabrooks to talk about the pollution at Boat Harbour. They were supposed to hear back from the government within three weeks, says Denny, but now, 21 days later, they still haven’t heard anything. They have also asked to meet with Darrell Dexter, who in addition to being Premier is the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs. They have not been granted a meeting.

Denny says that band officials in 1967 were told that the water in Boat Harbour wouldn’t be affected by the mill. Band officials were even brought to Saint John to see the water near a similar facility. But soon after the mill became operational, fish started dying and  the water turned black. Now, Denny says, most band members are dying in their 50s and 60s and children in the community are getting sick with skin rashes, boils and blisters, and respiratory illnesses. Denny says her own daughter is not allowed near the beach in Boat Harbour because she fears for her daughter’s health.

“We’re just surrounded by water and it’s all polluted,” says Denny.

The agreement with the government was signed by band chief Raymond Francis in 1967.  Brenda Francis, Raymond Francis’ daughter, says her father was blackmailed.  “He was told if they didn’t sign [the agreement] they were going to expropriate the land anyways,” says Francis.

Now, she says there is a heavy fog around Boat Harbour and there have been times when the smell has been so bad that it wakes people up in the middle of the night.

“Tell us its safe. Come live with us. Prove to us it’s not the mill,” she says.

She says she is prepared to move if she has to.

“Maybe we’ll move into [Point Pleasant Park]. It may  be too late for me, but it isn’t too late for the children.

A rally is currently being organized in Pictou County to call on the government to clean up Boat Harbour.

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