Gaëlle McNeil | CUPE Communication

On the banks of the Shubenacadie River, near Stewiacke in Nova Scotia, sits a Treaty Truck House. This wooden structure provides shelter and a meeting place for Mi’kmaq and non-Indigenous allies who are trying to stop a gas company from pumping salt into the river. 

The Alton Gas company is looking to store natural gas underground, in salt caverns, on a site by the river. At full operation, this project will release about 10 million liters of salt into the river system each day. 

Sean Foley, an acute care worker and member of CUPE 8920, was raised to respect Mi’kmaq values by his Indigenous stepfather, believes in preserving water rights. He fishes in the Shubenacadie River, catching striped bass, shad and the silvery gaspereau that make their way upstream every spring. 

“The Shubie River is a natural spawning ground, and any change puts that system in jeopardy,” says Sean. 

Like other trade union members, Sean has taken part in demonstrations against Alton Gas and has met with the Grass Roots Grandmothers, who are leading the charge to protect the water. In Mi’kmaq culture, women take on the main responsibility of protecting the water. 

Band members of the Sipekne’katik First Nation are asserting their rights under the Peace and Friendship Treaties of the 1700s. Those treaties give the Mi’kmaq the right to protect the fish and the water. 

The Grass Roots Grandmothers have been standing up to Alton Gas for more than three years now. Last year, three of the Grass Roots Grandmothers were arrested, and complicated legal challenges are now before the courts. 

CUPE 8920 is one of the many locals who have gathered donations to help with legal costs associated with the fight.  

In January 2017, the Nova Scotia Supreme Court ruled that the Sipekne’katik First Nation was not properly consulted during the environmental assessment process. They still have not been consulted. The provincial government has made outrageous claims, such as refusing to consult with “unconquered peoples.” The federal government is currently writing new regulations governing the deposit of brine into the Shubenacadie River. 

If the gas company wins, it will be both an environmental disaster and a blow for treaty rights of Indigenous peoples. CUPE 8920 and Sean Foley will keep being allies in this fight.