Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw water protectors arrested at Alton Gas site for violating court injunction

Mi'kmaw water protector Madonna Bernard held up an eagle feather as she entered the RCMP cruiser Apr. 10/Photo contributed.

Three Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw women water protectors who were occupying the entrance to a natural gas storage facilities site are expected to appear in court in Halifax Apr. 17 after they were arrested and taken into custody Wednesday for defying a temporary court injunction.

Madonna Bernard, Darlene Gilbert and Paula Isaac gave themselves up to the RCMP officers who arrived at the Alton Natural Gas Storage Project site near Stewiake, N.S.

Bernard said the trio was greeted by an RCMP division liaison team Wednesday morning who informed them police were on site to enforce a temporary court injunction approved by a Nova Scotia Supreme Justice on Mar. 18.

“They were very respectful in the way they came in,” Bernard said in a phone interview Wednesday evening. “We had time to prepare. With the guidance of the Creator, we were in ceremony,” she said.

“We decided that we were going to be civilly arrested under the so-called Canadian laws we do not recognize,” Bernard added.

While the RCMP officers met with the water protectors at the project site entrance, the road leading to the site was blocked off from traffic until mid-afternoon.

Darlene Gilbert holds up an eagle feather as she and Paul Isaac, second from left, are taken into RCMP custody/Photo contributed

In a news release, the RCMP stated officers were at the Alton Natural Gas Storage Project site “to enforce a court-ordered injunction against demonstrators impeding a natural gas project at Riverside Rd. in Fort Ellis, Stewiake.”

In an email, Lori MacLean, a spokeswoman for Alton, explained that “individuals at the site were encouraged to follow the (court) order by leaving or relocating to an area nearby for them to peacefully express their views.”

“At Alton, we respect the right to peaceful protest, but for safety reasons, the work site itself is open to Alton employees and approved contractors only,” MacLean wrote.

Bernard, Gilbert and Isaac said they were taken to the RCMP detachment in Enfield, N.S. Bernard said they were released after they signed an order promising to appear in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax next week for civil contempt of an injunction order.

The women then travelled to Halifax to take part in a protest against their arrest at the Nova Scotia legislature. Gilbert said she confronted Premier Stephen McNeil about their arrests.

“He wouldn’t answer a question when I asked him his opinion on Alton Gas after I was arrested for it on my sovereign rights, on my treaty rights. He would not answer any questions,” Gilbert said.

Water protectors, supporters against Alton project

The water protectors and their supporters have been occupying the company’s entrance for more than two years to protest the company’s plans to store natural gas in underground salt caverns.

The company has proposed to create the caverns by flushing out the salt from the caverns using water from the tidal Shubenacadie River. The salty water mixture would be stored in a holding pond located on the riverbank and then released into the river. The water protectors are concerned that the extra salt may disrupt the Shubenacadie River’s ecosystem.

RCMP vehicles were parked on the side of the road while Alton staff took over the site entrance on Apr. 10/Photo by Stephen Brake

Two water protectors, Dale Poulette and Rachael Greenland-Smith, were living at the straw bale house that was constructed at the company’s entrance gate until Alton filed for both a temporary and permanent court injunction against them and their supporters for blocking the entrance to its staff.

On Mar. 18, a Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice granted Alton a temporary injunction against the water protectors occupying the entrance of the company’s project site. Poulette and Greenland-Smith didn’t return to the straw bale house but several other water protectors, including Bernard, Gilbert and Isaac chose to remain at the site.

Poulette and Greenland-Smith are also back in court on Apr. 17 for motions regarding Alton’s application for a permanent court injunction against them and the other water protectors. The hearing for the permanent injunction is scheduled for three days in August.

“They’re disrespecting our rights as L’nu people.” – Paula Isaac

A group of supporters for the water protectors were staying at the treaty truck house cabin located along the riverbank Wednesday evening. Several RCMP vehicles were parked along the roadside near the Alton entrance site while two company trucks drove past the entrance gate and the straw bale house.

Alton staff removed a blanket that covered a sign on the entrance gate/Photo by Stephen Brake

Bernard was concerned that tobacco ties they placed on the gate may have been removed which she says is a violation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“We had put tobacco ties on the gate so that should have been taken down in ceremony,” Bernard said. “That’s a violation of our treaty rights,” she added.

“They’re disrespecting our rights as L’nu people. They’ve got to go home,” Isaac said.

“Under the treaties … they made agreements that they would respect the land and the water and the air. They crossed that line,” Isaac said.

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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.