Mi’kmaq representatives set eel traps as part of natural gas storage project protest
October 09, 2014
FORT ELLIS – A major legal battle is brewing if salt brine is released into the Stewiacke/Shubenacadie river system as planned, a Mi’kmaq representative said, during a small protest at the edge of a riverbank Wednesday morning.
“Once we drop that first trap, then that is our treaty fishing grounds of the Mi’kmaq nation of the Shubenacadie district,” said spokeswoman Cheryl Maloney, as several native fishermen made their way through a patch of long, swampy grass to place their eel traps in the water.
“Once we drop these traps, if they want to interfere and infringe with us they have to deal with the courts and they have to justify to a very high standard of justification why they’re infringing on the rights of the Mi’kmaq First Nation,” she said.
Maloney’s reference is in regard to plans by AltonNatural Gas Storage to pump salt brine into the river system as part of a $100-million project that proposes creating three storage facilities for natural gas from underground salt caverns in the area.
That project also includes mixing fresh water from the Stewiacke River with the salt being removed to form a brine that is to be pumped through a pipeline system from the caverns to holding ponds under construction at Fort Ellis near the mouth of the Stewiacke and Shubenacadie rivers.
However, concern has been expressed by First Nations representatives, fishing association members and some local residents, that the salt brine could endanger fish stocks in the water system, including such endangered species as striped bass and salmon.
Company president David Birkett has said precautions are being taken to ensure the eco-system and its fish stocks will not be harmed and extensive monitoring will be ongoing once the project gets underway.
As large excavators and bulldozers toiled nearby at the construction site of the holding ponds, a protest group of about 20 people, primarily from the Shubenacadie (Indian Brook) band, held a smudging ceremony and staked out their territory by raising the Mi’kmaq First Nations and warrior flags.
“It is a very significant, historically archeological position,” Maloney said. “This is our traditional hunting and fishing river. You know, we won the Simon case about hunting and fishing. The treaty was about this actual location of the Shubenacadie band of Indians,” she said, of the 1985 Supreme Court of Canada case between James Matthew Simon vs. the Queen, that upheld a 1752 treaty guaranteeing native fishing and hunting rights.
“And the royal proclamation said you keep peace with us and we won’t interfere with your hunting and fishing as usual. We won’t impede or infringe on your right to hunt and fish,” she said, of the original treaty.
“And so we’re going to put our traps there and claim our treaty fishing area,” she said.
As numerous members of the group made their way to the river, which feeds directly in to the Minas Basin and ultimately the Bay of Fundy, they were approached by a representative from the construction site, who said his only purpose was to ensure no one was in danger from the working equipment.
“As long as they’re safe,” said Jim Bruce, the security advisor for the site. “They’re exercising their rights. Everybody’s happy with that.”
Maloney said the eel traps will be left in the water “indefinitely” and she told Bruce that fisherman will return to check on them once a day for as long as they are there.
Brandon Maloney, fisheries manager with the Indian Brook band, said he fishes eel, bass and other species from the river system and he does not accept the company’s position that the project will not pose a danger to the fish stocks.
“Oh yeah, definitely, I think it will have a negative impact on everything in there,” he said. “There’s so much life, it’s just going to have a big, negative impact. So we’re doing what we can to stop it.”