Proposed open-pit mine in Nova Scotia threatens traditional hunting grounds says Mi’kmaw chief

A Mi’kmaw chief says he is willing to go to court to stop the development of a new open-pit gold mine.

“We’re opposing it, we’re not in favor of the project going forward in the current area,” says Bob Gloade, chief of Millbrook First Nation.

“Whatever we have to do, if we have to go to court, if we do whatever we need to do because it’s something that’s going to have a direct impact on our residents.”

Millbrook First Nations’ satellite reserve is Beaver Lake, located about 100 km northeast of Halifax with a population of 22 people.

The proposed dam mine, Beaver Dam, would be located next to it.

Gloade says that area is where the Mi’kmaq traditionally hunt bear, deer, rabbit, beaver, and pick berries and fish for trout, which provides food security for community members.

He says the dam will permanently destroy the area.

“You take that away from them, then they don’t have anything and that’s a direct infringement on their rights as Indigenous people, direct infringement on their right to provide for their own families,” says Gloade.

The Australian gold mining company, St. Barbara, also known as Atlantic Gold, operates the only open-pit gold mine in Nova Scotia, called Touquoy. It began production in 2017 at Moose River, about 80 km northeast of Halifax.

According to the company’s website, as of June 2021, the Atlantic operations had a combined estimated 1.7 million ounces of gold and is exploring 21 projects in Nova Scotia, including the southwest region of the province.

Now, it is proposing to develop three other mines in the area, including Beaver Dam, which would be about 30 km from the Touquoy mine.

St. Barbara acquired Atlantic Gold Corporation and its operations in Nova Scotia, in 2019 extending its global reach across three countries: Canada, Australia, and New Guinea.

Here in Canada, St. Barbara is facing 32 charges under the province’s Environment Act, failing to comply with conditions of approval, and releasing substances into the environment of excess amounts.

The alleged offences occurred between February 2018 and May 2020 and were self-reported by the company to the Nova Scotia Environment Department.

Dustin O’Leary, communications manager for St. Barbara in Atlantic Canada says St. Barbara is unable to comment about the case until the proceedings have come to a resolution but said, “St Barbara confirms that the Company is scheduled to appear in provincial court in relation to federal and provincial environmental incidents, which were self-reported by the Company to Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change (NSECC). Our Company has been proactively working with NSECC to address these matters.”

O’Leary adds the company is pleased with Millbrook’s input,  “As it relates to Beaver Dam specifically, the approvals process led by the Federal Government of Canada provides the ability for First Nations communities to consult directly with the government on all projects of interest to them,” he says.

Gloade and his community members first met with Atlantic Gold at the proposed Beave Dam project site in 2016.

“They indicated in the initial discussions ‘oh no it’s only a small area’ but then we looked at the grand picture, what it would all entail, that would only be the immediate area where they would extract, but then they have to extract all that area, where are they going to move all that dirt, where are they going to move everything and then the footprint just got larger and larger,” says Gloade.

Millbrook conducted a study, interviewed its members, including input and data from the community’s health, social, and education departments.

In 2021, a study called the Beaver Dam Community Wellness Study, determined the environmental, health and social impacts of the destruction of the traditional hunting area of Beaver Dam.

The study is posted on the website of the Impact Agency of Canada, detailing the environmental impacts, and loss of access to food and land.

It included a questionnaire to its members about the dam. The questions included their concerns over the dam, the significance of the lands, and opinions around alternative harvesting areas.

The report also dealt with the rising cost of food including meat and the effect of losing the hunting grounds.

“In the Beaver Dam consultation report, submitted in the spring of 2021, community members likened the possible loss of Crown lands to the loss experienced from residential schools,” the report outlined, “What we heard was, if Millbrook band members lose access to the lands in Beaver Dam (the only place Millbrook band members can exercise their harvesting rights on and near reserve lands), for the life of the proposed mine, many harvesters will lose their way of life.

“When we consider the project could be in operation for 5-8 years, subsequent generations of young harvesters will miss out on the opportunity to learn their traditional ways. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Report highlights the experiences of residential school survivors. “If fortunate enough to return home, many survivors spoke of the inability to readjust to the life and language of the reserve. Many were ‘forgetful of traditional ways and foods.’”

Gerald Gloade of Millbrook Frist Nation helped research and write the report, saying, “the company, the message they told us, is this project is not going to have an effect on the local Indigenous People.”

“When we documented where our band members hunt and harvest in the local and regional project area, we were able to show that was just not correct,” says Gerald Gloade.

Gloade says destroying traditional lands is a violation of Indigenous rights,

“Our rights are protected, and that way of life must be protected and those are things you cannot replace for any amount of gold,” says Gloade.

In a similar case, Sipekne’katik First Nation took the province and a natural gas company to court.

The Mi’kmaw First Nation said the province of Nova Scotia did not fulfill their duty to consult, in their environmental assessment regarding Alton Gas, which proposed to store natural gas in underground salt caravans, that would entail flushing salty brine into the Shubenacadie River – a sacred Mi’kmaw river.

In February 2020, the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, Justice Frank C. Edwards ruled the duty to consult includes Aboriginal Title and Treaty Rights, besides an impact assessment, and the Province of Nova Scotia did not fulfill their duty to consult with Sipekne’katik first Nation.

Alton Gas eventually cancelled the project.

APTN News requested an interview with Nova Scotia Environment Minister Tim Halman but he didn’t make himself available.

Instead, his office sent a statement.

“Consultation with Millbrook First Nation on the Beaver Dam Gold Mine has been ongoing since 2016,” said spokesperson Tracy Barron in an email. “It is being conducted jointly with the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada and continues through correspondence, technical meetings, and participation in the review process.  Consultation will continue through and beyond the environmental assessment processes.”

APTN also requested an interview with Minister of Environment and Climate Change of Canada, Steven Guilbeault, but his office responded by email instead.

“Government of Canada’s aim to secure free, prior and informed consent throughout the impact assessment process for all decisions that affect Indigenous peoples’ rights and interests,” said spokesperson Marissa Harfouche. “The Agency identifies Indigenous groups whose Aboriginal and/or treaty rights may be adversely affected by the proposed project, as well as any Indigenous jurisdictions that may have responsibilities in relation to a possible impact assessment.”

The projects are currently under impact assessment by the provincial and federal governments, Gloade says.

“Extraction gold from that area is not going to benefit our residents, it’s not going to benefit our community, it’s not going to benefit this province, it will benefit the investors of another country.”

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