Sipekne’katik Chief says Alton Gas will take legal action if eel traps remain on project site

Trish MacIntyre of Halifax was one of approximately 30 people at the Alton Natural Gas Storage Project site in Fort Ellis, N.S. in Sept. 2016/Photo by Stephen Brake

The Chief of the Sipekne’katik Band in Nova Scotia says company executives with the Alton Gas Natural Storage Project have threatened legal action against the band and the protesters if the eel traps placed in the mixing channel aren’t removed by Monday.

“If the traps and everything are still there, they’re going to take anyone that’s involved to court,” Chief Rufus Copage said in an interview on Saturday.

Chief Copage said company officials threatened legal action during a meeting with him, the band’s lawyer and the Director of Operations on Sept. 12. He explained the company’s executives called for the meeting because they claimed security guards at the site received a death threat from one of the protesters at the project site.

According to Chief Copage, a company official told him that someone with a car pulled into the gated main entrance of the project site and told the security guards that snipers were in nearby woods ready to shoot at them. According to the same official, the security guards were only able to get a partial license plate from the car, Copage said.

“And because of that, Alton Gas (is) basically saying that they’re going to play hardball,” Chief Copage said.

The Mi’kmaw leader says he questions the validity of the death threat accusation from company officials.

Sipekne'katik Chief Rufus Copage says Alton Gas have threatened to take the band to court if eel traps aren't removed from the project site/Photo by Stephen Brake
Sipekne’katik Chief Rufus Copage says Alton Gas have threatened to take the band to court if eel traps aren’t removed from the project site/Photo by Stephen Brake

“Every time you drive by there, you have four or five people out there in front of that trailer,” Chief Copage said. “How can somebody drive in the yard, make death threats to the security people and then drive back out and you haven’t got a license plate number or you haven’t got a description of who did it?” he asked.

Chief Copage also said that Alton representatives have backed out of attending a community meeting in Indian Brook First Nation, N.S. on Sept. 19.

“What they said (is) they don’t want to attend the meeting on the 19th because they feel that it was going to turn into kind of a circus,” Chief Copage said.

Alton wants chief, council to intervene in protest – Chief Rufus Copage

Approximately 30 people made up of Mi’kmaw people from across the Maritimes, local residents and activists have been gathering at the fence next to the Alton Natural Gas Storage Project site on a daily basis since the beginning of September. They’re protesting the Nova Scotia’s government’s decision in January to approve the company’s plan to construct underground salt caverns using water from the Shubenacadie River.

Alton Natural Gas Storage LP, a subsidiary of Calgary-based AltaGas, plans to use the water from the Shubenacadie River to flush out the underground salt in order to create to storage caverns. The river water mixed with the salt, called brine, would then be diluted and placed in storage ponds before being released back into the river.

On Sept. 11, several members of the group used a boat to reach a tiny island created by the company to divert a portion of the river to create a mixing channel. They began to construct a teepee on the island and placed several eel traps in the water around the island, including the mixing channel.

Chief Copage explained the company officials want him to intervene and instruct the group to take the traps out of the water due to liability issues. In return, the officials told him they would hold off on releasing the brine into the Shubenacadie River until the band’s appeal against the provincial government’s decision to approve the project in Nova Scotia Supreme Court has concluded.

“This all depends if the people down there were to disperse,” he said.

Chief Copage said he explained to the company that while the band is not directly involved in protest, chief and council support Sipekne’katik band members exercising their treaty right to fish along the river.

“The grassroots people, the band members, if they want to go down to the river, as a band, we have no say over them. They have the right to do what they want,” Chief Copage said.

However, Chief Copage said the company is disputing the band’s stand that it isn’t involved with the protest because two band councillors, Cheryl Maloney and Keith Julian, have joined the group along the riverbank in Fort Ellis, N.S.

“We’re trying to take a stand and not be involved but the fact that we have councillors involved down there, they’re trying to, they may name the band in court,” Chief Copage said.

Chiefs & councils allowed to provide moral support – Cheryl Maloney

Cheryl Maloney. NS Native Women's Association President, says group will begin own scientific research this week/Photo by Stephen Brake
Cheryl Maloney. NS Native Women’s Association President, says the eel traps will remain in the mixing channel/Photo by Stephen Brake

Cheryl Maloney, who is also the president of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association, disagrees with the company’s opinion on her involvement with the protest as a band councillor.

“Chiefs and councils are allowed to provide moral support for these activities,” Maloney said. “Everything we’re doing is legal,” she added.

“We’re allowed to fish, we’re allowed to pray. We’re allowed to do science and conservation. We’re allowed to gather at the truckhouse,” Maloney said.

“Nobody in the group is interested in negotiating the removal of the traps,” she said. “Our traps are our anchor for our constitutional rights and it triggers a higher constitutional duty by them being there.”

“The traps are staying in the mixing channel,” Maloney said.

Meanwhile, Maloney said that she would step down from band council if the company starts to release the brine into the Shubenacadie River.

“If it comes to a sit in at the site, I would step down and join the resistance camp. I wouldn’t let them do it alone,” Maloney said.

“They’re elders. It’s like me turning my back on the elders and saying, ‘I can’t do that. I can’t cross the line,’” Maloney explained. “I’ll go wherever the elders direct me.” contacted a spokeswomen with the Alton Natural Gas Storage via email for a response to Chief Copage’s comments about the removal of the eel traps and concerns about the alleged death threat against security guards at the site.

“The Alton Natural Gas Storage Project is an active construction site. Access to that site is restricted for public safety reasons, including the island and the mixing channel,” spokeswoman Lori MacLean wrote in the email reply.

“Following activity by some individuals at the site, Alton remains in dialogue with law enforcement representatives and others,” she wrote.

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About Maureen Googoo 270 Articles
Maureen Googoo is an award-winning journalist from Indian Brook First Nation (Sipekne'katik) in Nova Scotia. She has worked in news more than 30 years for media outlets such as CBC Radio, the Chronicle-Herald and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. Maureen has an arts degree in political science from Saint Mary's University in Halifax, a journalism degree from Ryerson University in Toronto and a Masters degree in journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.