As the clock ticks down on an injunction to remove them, protesters occupying the site of the Alton Gas Natural Storage Project are planning their next moves carefully.
More Indigenous land and water defenders have taken up residence at the camp once occupied by Dale Poulette and Rachael Greenland-Smith, who left after a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge approved the injunction earlier this week – a document they are named in.
That order is still before the court, as lawyers representing both Alton Gas and the protesters negotiate the final wording.
The camp lies at the edge of the project site near Stewiacke, N.S.. It includes a small house, a fire pit, an outhouse, a garden and space for small livestock. Alton Gas maintains that its occupants are trespassing and preventing safe access to its equipment and infrastructure – reasoning held up by the judge in his decision.
But the occupation isn’t over, explained Mi’kmaw treaty scholar Michelle Paul, all that remains is to decide what shape the movement will take.
“Right now we’re still speaking amongst each other, to the women and the grandmothers, to reach a consensus to move forward,” she said in an interview.
Mi’kmaw grandmothers, joined by about 15 supporters, held a sacred water ceremony at the site on Friday in honour of World Water Day. Women are the traditional water carriers and protectors in their communities, and Paul said their commitment to the resource remains steadfast.
“It’s up to us to stand up and speak for the water,” she told Global News. “All of these corporations and all of their interests to not serve to protect that, so we will. And when others fail to act, we will step in to do whatever it takes.”
Mi’kmaw activist Ducie Howe said she, for one, isn’t leaving.
“It’s the spring equinox and it’s a new year,” she said. “It’s a new beginning and we’re here, and we’ve been here and we’re gonna remain here regardless of what Alton says or other media that that’s, you know, saying things that are conflicting.”
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The Shubenacadie River is at the heart of concern over Alton Gas project, which aims to store natural gas in underground caverns, releasing tens of thousands of tonnes of salty brine into its waters in the process.
The company has declined repeated requests for an interview on the topic, but in an emailed statement on Thursday, pointed to a decade environmental monitoring, and “a substantial amount of scientific data” that suggests the project can be done without significant harm to the ecosystem.
In his decision to approve the injunction, Justice Gerald Moir ruled that Alton Gas has “no title” to the river, but he also ruled that there is “no basis in law for the occupation.”
Paul said the treaties speak for themselves.
“This river is very sacred to us and to our people,” she told Global News. “Historically we relied on this river for sustenance. It was like a super highway so to speak in regards to providing us the fish from it and for trade and for our livelihood as well along the river.
“The historical record will reflect that as far as the documents go.”
In an email, Alton Gas spokesperson Lori Maclean declined to discuss any plans for enforcing the injunction, once the wording is finalized. But she said the company has suggested a location where the protest may continue, visibly, without blocking access to the project.