Along Highway 104, not far from the New Brunswick and Nova Scotia border stands a provincial sign with an image created by Mi’kmaq artist Leonard Paul.
The image depicts a Mi’kmaq Elder and reads “Land of the Mi’kmaq.”
It serves as a public recognition by the province that Nova Scotia is Mi’kmaq territory.
Mi’kmaq Elder Daniel Paul said, “it was a good gesture by the province when they put up the sign.”
But over the weekend the sign was vandalized with the message “NS Needs Mills.”
“It’s clearly a reference to the recent decision by the province to uphold the Boat Harbour Act,” said MP for Cumberland Colchester Lenore Zann.
The Boat Harbour Act ordered the Northern Pulp mill to stop pumping wastewater into lagoons near Pictou Landing First Nation by January 31 – something members of the First Nation have been saying was necessary for decades.
It’s an issue that has divided the region. With Northern Pulp laying off 300 employees on Friday to comply with the shutdown, Zann said she was surprised the vandalism happened in her riding, but she says regardless of where it happens, it is not appropriate.
“Some people seem to be wanting to take it out on the First Nation’s people and that’s just not okay, that’s racism,” said Zann.
“People are expressing their racist intolerance against First Nations people on a decision that was political. It was a legislated bill introduced by the province of Nova Scotia so if they are upset, speak to the province of Nova Scotia, do not target First Nations people.”
Daniel Paul said that the message is childish and doesn’t accomplish anything, and while it’s disappointing to see, he says it is not surprising.
“We’ve come to acknowledge I guess that we live in a society that racism towards us has been very pronounced over a long long period of time,” he said.
But Zann calls such racist acts unacceptable and says it is something she will not tolerate.
“Racism, unfortunately, has long tentacles in Nova Scotia and across Canada, I feel like our first nations people are unfairly targeted,” she said.
Upon seeing an image of the graffiti posted online, Zann said she called Nova Scotia’s deputy minister of transportation and infrastructure renewal to ask for immediate action.
The department was quick to dispatch a team and as of Monday morning, the graffiti was cleaned up.
Nova Scotia’s Premier said in a statement that he was beyond disappointed to “see such clearly unacceptable behaviour.”
“At the same time, the forestry industry is an important part of our rural economy and we will work with the sector moving forward.”
On Jan. 29, the province extended Northern Pulp’s use of Boat Harbour until April so that it could properly put the mill into hibernation mode.