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'There’s so much awareness, it’s going to be hard to treat us the way we’ve been treated in the past'


Approximately 300 people march demanding government honour Boat Harbour Act

PICTOU LANDING, N.S. —

The community of Pictou Landing First Nation (PLFN) and supporters from around the province gathered on Oct. 4 to remind the provincial government of its promise to close Boat Harbour.

“It’s important that we remind government and premier Stephen McNeil that the Boat Harbour Act is a promise,” said Michelle Francis Denny, of PLFN.

Denny was speaking to crowd of nearly 300 people, many wearing red A’se’k shirts and carrying signs demanding the government honour the deadline of the 2015 Boat Harbour Act. The act puts Jan 31, 2020 as the deadline, after which the Northern Pulp mill in Pictou County will no longer use the Boat Harbour as an effluent treatment facility.

“The Boat Harbour Act is a promise, much like a treaty, and it cannot be broken and it will not be broken,” said Denny.

But, as the promised date draws near, messaging from the province has led people to question if it will hold to that deadline.

“I am very concerned,” said PLFN Chief Andrea Paul, speaking with The News minutes before leading the crowd of people on a one-kilometre walk  – from the community band office to a point where treated effluent is discharged out of Boat Harbour and into the Northumberland Strait.

Paul specifically mentioned a recent op/ed written by McNeil and published in the Chronicle Herald, in which the premier pledged to honour the promise to close Boat Harbour, but did not specifically mention Jan 31, 2020 as the date that it will be closing.

“When I read that article he didn’t mention the date. It made me wonder why,” said Paul. “(McNeil) has always been very vocal and very clear, ‘I gave them five years’, so I’m not sure what angle he’s coming from.”

Paul said she reached out to McNeil’s office for clarification, but had not yet received a reply.

In Halifax, McNeil told reporters that any change to the Jan 31, 2020 deadline would have to be put forward in legislature, and that so far, "nothing has changed."

Mary Nicholas has always been cautiously optimistic regarding the closure date.

“For me it’s hard to get excited anymore,” said the PLFN elder in an interview back in January. “I’ve been brought here too often. To that point where something is going to get done.”

On Oct. 4, Nicholas was among those walking.

“It’d be pretty hard to break a promise to all these people now, wouldn’t it?” said Nicholas.

“When we’re just a few people on a reserve or you don’t see us, it’s pretty easy for the government to treat us anyway it wants," she said. "But now, there’s so much awareness it’s going to be hard to treat us the way we’ve been treated in the past.”

--With files from Andrew Rankin

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