Eskasoni man camps at Alton site to protect river, practice treaty rights

Dale Poulette from Eskasoni, N.S. practices on his fiddle while camping at the Alton Natural Gas Storage Project site. Paulette has been at the site since Sept. 2016/Photo by Stephen Brake

Dale Poulette has been calling the Shubenacadie riverbank near Stewiacke, N.S. home since September 2016.

“It’s very relaxing. It’s really good for the mind,” Poulette explains. I think it’s helping me get back to Mother Nature with the old ways,” he says.

Poulette, 31, has been camping out along the riverbank next to the Alton Natural Gas Storage Project site because he wants to protect the river and the species that inhabit it.

In order to do that, Poulette says he is practicing his Mi’kmaw treaty rights by hunting and fishing while occupying the area along the riverbank next to the project site.

“(It’s) to protect our ecosystem so that my children and their children will get to enjoy the fish here, catching them and eating them and practicing their rights also for generations to come,” Poulette explains.

Since 2014, local residents and the nearby Mi’kmaw community of Indian Brook First Nation have been actively protesting the Alton Natural Gas Storage Project.

They’re against the company’s plans to store natural gas in underground salt caverns. Alton plans to create the caverns by flushing out the salt using tidal water from the Shubenacadie River.

The salty water mixture, called brine, would then be stored in a holding pond located along the riverbank before it is released back into the Shubenacadie River.

Opponents of the project are concerned the brine mixture may permanently harm the river’s ecosystem.

“Just the idea of these corporations coming here and destroying our river that easy kind of made my stomach turn,” Poulette says while explaining his decision to leave his home in Eskasoni First Nation, N.S. to camp along the riverbank.

“It made me mad. I’ve been mad for most of my life because of this society we live in,” Poulette says. “I think that was my big motivation was to try to stop these guys somehow,” he adds.

Poulette spends his days hunting, fishing, playing fiddle

The Treaty Truckhouse in Feb. 2017/Photo by Stephen Brake

Poulette lives in a tiny shack called the Treaty Truckhouse located next to the Alton project site. The insulated shack is equipped with a wood stove, a solar power generator, two cots and a hammock.

Just outside of the Truckhouse, Poulette keeps a fire going that he uses to make meals like stew.

In addition to hunting and fishing in the area, Poulette also practices playing music with his fiddle or his hand drum to pass the time.

Poulette says supporters drop by on a regular basis to check on him and to bring him supplies and food.

“We get people showing up every odd day. Supporters come by to bring us coffee or ask if we need anything,” Poulette says.

Teens joined Poulette in February 2017

Dawson Bernard (left), Dale Poulette (centre), Felix Bernard hanging out along the Shubenacadie River in Feb. 2017/Photo by Stephen Brake

In February, two Mi’kmaw teens, Dawson Bernard and Felix Bernard from Waycobah First Nation, N.S. joined Poulette at the campsite for a few weeks.

“(I’m) just here to exercise my treaty rights and make sure they don’t pollute these waters and dump brine into it,” Dawson Bernard, 17, said.

“I don’t know,” he shrugged. “It’s something I feel like I’ve got to do, obligated,” he added.

Felix Bernard, 18, agreed.

“Because if I don’t do it, who else is going to do it, you know,” Felix Bernard said.

Like Poulette, Felix Bernard has found the camping experience along the riverbank peaceful.

“I’m just really attracted to the river, I guess. It kind of pulls you back, you know,” he said.

“It’s a learning experience, I guess. There’s a lot to learn here.”

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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.