Sipekne’katik councillor says band members not interested in Alton Gas benefits deal

Carol Howe, 56, from Indian Brook First Nation, N.S. wants Sipekne'katik Chief and Council to oppose any benefits deal with Alton Gas/Photo by Stephen Brake

A majority of Sipekne’katik Band members who attended a community meeting have told their elected officials they’re not interested in negotiating a benefits package with Alton Gas, says one band councillor who attended the meeting.

“I got a sense that they weren’t supporting any type of agreement with Alton Gas (from) the ones that were there,” Sipekne’katik Band Councillor Alex McDonald said following the meeting Wednesday evening in Indian Brook First Nation, N.S.

“I know the majority of the band membership does not agree with signing any agreements with anybody,” McDonald said.

The Sipekne’katik Chief and Council held the community engagement session with band members to get advice and direction on how it should proceed regarding a proposed benefits package with Alton Gas.

More than 60 people crowded into a small room at the multipurpose centre for the two-hour meeting behind closed doors.

Sipekne’katik Band Chief Michael Sack/Photo by Stephen Brake

“It was a great community engagement session,” Chief Sack, 36, said following the meeting. “There’s a lot of great input from pros and cons on the whole focus of the entire project,” he said.

“People were concerned about the treaties but this has no impact on our treaties whatsoever,” Sack said. “Council has never talked about treaties in this aspect of the river,” he added.

According to an information sheet circulated to band members at the meeting, Alton Gas has proposed:

  • To work with Mi’kmaw organizations on environmental monitoring and a cultural study of the Shubenacadie River
  • To offer positions on Alton’s environmental protection team and during construction
  • To provide funding for a new highway gateway for Exit 10 along Highway 102
  • To provide funding for a commercial land-based aquaculture project for striped bass
  • To help in providing renewable energy to the band or help with energy efficiency upgrades to band buildings

In an email, an Alton Gas spokeswoman said the company isn’t in a position to elaborate on the proposed benefits package until the Sipekne’katik Band makes a decision.

A small group of protesters travelled by bus from Halifax to Indian Brook First Nation to voice their opposition against any agreement with Alton Gas. The group asked to sit in on the meeting but they were told it was for band members only.

Sipekne’katik, local residents have opposed project since 2014

Alton Gas has received approvals from the Nova Scotia government to construct underground salt caverns to store natural gas near Stewiacke, N.S.

The company plans to use water from the Shubenacadie River to flush out and dissolve underground salt deposits in order to create the storage caverns. The salt water mixture, called brine, would be stored in a holding pond before being released back into the river.

The Sipekne’katik Band and local residents have opposed the project since 2014. They’re concerned the brine water will adversely affect the fish habitat in the Shubenacadie River.

In February 2016, the band filed an appeal of the project’s approval which was rejected by Environment Minister Margaret Miller. The band then took its appeal to Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

In January, the court overturned Minister Miller’s decision and allowed the band to resubmit its appeal to the Dept. of Environment. According to a band official, the band has until the end of June to resubmit.

“That’s not a reason to stop protecting the water.” – Carol Howe

Carol Howe, 56, attended the meeting with hopes to dissuade chief and council from engaging with Alton Gas. She disagreed with Chief Sack’s comment that negotiating with Alton Gas doesn’t affect Mi’kmaq treaty rights.

“They don’t have a right to negotiate inherent treaty rights,” Howe said outside of multipurpose centre Wednesday evening.

During the meeting, Howe said that one band councillor suggested the band should negotiate a benefits deal because Alton Gas is still going ahead with the natural gas storage project regardless.

“We can’t be selling out because the other chiefs and other bands in Canada are selling out (and) taking these deals,” she said.

“That’s not a reason to stop protecting the water,” Howe said.

“I’m hoping that they’ll decide that they’re going to tell Alton Gas no and they’re going to support what’s right and support protecting our sacred water, our land and our treaties and standing up for them,” she added.

Sipekne’katik Band Councillor Alex McDonald/Photo by Stephen Brake

Councillor McDonald, who also opposes any agreement with Alton Gas, agreed with Howe on the issue of treaty rights.

“I believe there is a treaty right affected here because if there’s nothing left in the river to harvest, then what part of your treaty can you practice,” McDonald said.

“You’re not going to practice anything on the river if there’s nothing left,” he added.

According to McDonald, the band is making more than $6-million per year from band enterprises such as the fisheries, gaming and the tobacco store.

“We don’t need a benefits package from Alton, not at all,” McDonald said.

McDonald said that because of band’s yearly surplus, it was able to spend $500-thousand of its own revenue to legally challenge the natural gas storage project.

“Using it for fighting a defence like this against any proponent is positive,” McDonald said.

According to both Chief Sack and Councillor McDonald, chief and council will now take the feedback it received from community members and discuss it at an upcoming band council meeting before making a final decision on negotiating with Alton Gas.

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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.