Mi’kmaw water protectors to cite Aboriginal title as defence against Alton Gas injunction

Paula Isaac (Kiju Muin), Madonna Bernard (Kukuwes Wowkis) and Darlene Gilbert (Thunderbird Swooping Down Woman) talk to reporters following their court appearance in Halifax Apr. 17/Photo by Stephen Brake

Three Mi’kmaw women charged with violating a temporary court injunction in place at the Alton Gas project site near Stewiake, N.S. plan to launch an Aboriginal title claim to fight the charges against them.

The women also plan to file their own court injunction against Alton Natural Gas Storage Project Inc. to halt all activities at the site in Fort Ellis, N.S. until their title claim is addressed in the courts.

“We walked in there with our eagle feathers, our sovereignty and our spirits in hand,” Madonna Bernard, who also goes by her Mi’kmaw name Kukuwes Wowkis, told reporters following the group’s court appearance.

“We are going forward with Aboriginal Title and we are filing an injunction against Alton Gas to halt all operations while we handle our unceded Mi’kmaw territory land,” Bernard said.

Bernard, Darlene Gilbert and Paula Isaac appeared before Justice Gerald Moir in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax Wed. on contempt charges after they were arrested on Apr. 10 at the Alton Gas project site. During the court proceedings, the three women signed an undertaking to stay away from the project site while the injunction remains in place.

The Mi’kmaw women are part of a group of Mi’kmaw grandmothers who oppose Alton’s plans to store natural gas in underground salt caverns. The company plans to use water from the tidal Shubenacadie River to dissolve the salt in the caverns and then dump the salty water mixture back into the river. The group is concerned the extra salt will upset the river’s ecosystem.

Prior to their arrest, the three women were camping out at a straw bale house that was constructed behind the gate at the Alton entrance site. The company filed for a court injunction in Feb. to remove the house and the group because it said both were blocking staff from accessing its facilities located next to the riverbank.

Straw bale house at Alton razed

In March, Justice Moir granted Alton a temporary injunction against the water protectors and their supporters from blocking the project entrance. In his court order, Justice Moir also ordered the company to provide space on its property for the water protectors to protest.

Alton recently razed the straw bale house that was located behind the entrance gate to the company’s facilities in Fort Ellis, N.S./Photo by Stephen Brake

After the three Mi’kmaw grandmothers were arrested, Alton razed the straw bale house and cleared the entrance gate.

Alton initially named Dale Poulette from Eskasoni, N.S. and his partner, Rachael Greenland-Smith in its application for a temporary and permanent court injunction against the water protectors and their supporters. However, the lawyer for the couple informed the court on Wed. her clients’ names would be withdrawn from both proceedings and replaced with the names of the three Mi’kmaw grandmothers.

The three Mi’kmaw grandmothers are scheduled to return to court on June 10 for motions regarding their upcoming hearing on contempt charges in August. Court dates have also been set aside in December to hear the Aboriginal title claim.


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About Maureen Googoo 206 Articles
Maureen Googoo is an award-winning journalist from Indian Brook First Nation (Sipekne'katik) in Nova Scotia. She has worked in news for 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.