A life-long North Preston, N.S., resident and self-described black activist says the provincial government needs to do more to effectively engage the five communities involved in an initiative aimed at gaining clearing titles to generations of family owned land.
“There has never been a meeting with the communities and you’ve got one surveyor. So how are they serious when they’ve got one surveyor, they haven’t talked to us?” Evangeline Downey said.
Last September, the province announced a project called the Land Titles Initiative aimed at helping residents of five African Nova Scotian communities gain clear title to their land.
Nearly two centuries ago, black loyalists were given plots of land by the crown in communities from Guysborough to the Prestons.
But in many cases, the deeds were never recorded.
“Well, clearly it’s historical discrimination. There have been barriers that folks in these five communities, as well as many other African Nova Scotian communities, have faced. This is an access to justice initiative from our perspective and we’re ready to start to helping folks obtain legal title to land that they own,” Barry Whynot said, the internal operations director with Nova Scotia Legal Aid.
In partnership with the government, Nova Scotia Legal Aid is offering free legal services to land title claimants, and say they will have two offices opened by the end of June dedicated to supporting those cases.
But Downey says she and other residents of the communities weren’t aware of that and haven’t been clearly communicated with since the initiative was announced.
“We don’t know nothing about that, this came hearsay from us. They didn’t tell us, they had no meetings,” Downey said.
Nova Scotia Legal Aid says community meetings will be held in the future.
“Many folks are in possession of land that they own but they don’t have legal title. So, what will happen from a practical perspective is people can contact our Halifax office, they will be assessed based on merit, they do not have to qualify financially, it doesn’t matter what their income or circumstances are, from a financial perspective they will qualify for this land title initiative, if they have a parcel located in one of the five communities,” Whynot said.
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The initiative is headed by the African Nova Scotian Affairs Department, who says progress is being made even if it’s not in the public eye.
“We have two community navigators and we are in the process of hiring a community co-ordinator. The Department of Natural Resources has one surveyor and two survey technicians have been hired,” Wayn Hamilton said, the executive director of African Nova Scotian Affairs.
Downy has expressed concern with only one surveyor and two technicians for the five communities, but Hamilton rebuttals that concern by stating those services will only be used on case-by-case basis.
“We’re not surveying the whole entire community. So in that regard, the surveyor and the survey technicians I think are adequate enough to handle any claim that comes in which would be on an individual basis,” he said.
The department says each claim will be assessed based on merit, making the situation complex.
Downey believes government officials should make more of an effort to engage the communities in the work being done.
“The government has to come in and the government has to make sure that we the black people are compensated,” she said.