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June 9, 2006
Native elders offer to help strip mining opponents
Citizens group sees First Nations elders as last hope


POINT ACONI - Citizens Against Strip Mining see the First Nation elders as their last hope in the fight against strip mining on Cape Breton Island.

"Government is not listening, we have nowhere else to go," said group spokesperson Donna Stubbert. "We've been fighting against strip mining for 16 months and finally we see there is light at the end of the tunnel."

During a press conference in Point Aconi, Thursday, native elders threw their suppprt behind CASM in the fight against strip mining on Boularderie Island. This support could possibly include an injunction to stop the project.

"I met with my fellow elders seeking a mandate to fight strip mining," said elder spokesman Albert Marshall. This cause is very much in the minds of the elders of Cape Breton. The elders are looking at the long term. They aren't looking at 10 or 50 years, they are looking seven generations ahead."

Marshall said there is a need to ensure strip mining will not cause any further adverse effects to the land.

" We've been led to believe that the technology of today can do the kind of remediation that needs to be done. We have to remind government that it has lost the spirit of sustainability. How can one company maximize their profit at any cost?" questioned Marshall.

To a number of standing ovations, he assured the crowd of about 50 people at the Point Aconi Community Hall that the elders believe they have a responsibility to protect Mother Earth.

"We've seen the community voice its concerns and do whatever negotiations have to be done, but the end result is the negotiations become stagnant," he said. "We worked with these people behind the scenes, but it comes to a point where we need to invoke our special treaty and aboriginal rights."

Marshall added that this is the only way government may listen.

"We aren't anti-development. Since the politicians aren't listening, its time we cease negotiations and take it upon ourselves to ensure that this (strip mining) project doesn't go ahead at any cost."

Marshall cautioned that the impact of strip mining won't affect just Boularderie Island, but warned that it will ultimately affect the entire Bras d'Or Lakes system.

"We need the regulatory agencies to invoke the elders' right to a Mi'kmaq environmental assessment. It's obvious that the politicians are not hearing the voice of the people. Hopefully, through this group, we will be in a position to redefine the intent of' regional democracy, for the people and by the people. Unfortunately, democracy today is focusing on big business."

The Citizens Against Strip Mining group is looking to halt development of a coal lease on 288 hectares of land at the former Prince mine site in Point Aconi, that includes some 18 hectares of wetlands. John Chisholm, president of Pioneer Coal, has said development of the lease could begin sometime this spring, depending on when industrial approval is granted from the Department of Environment and Labour.

In an announcement in April, the province said it will limit Pioneer Coal's ability to expand beyond its current permit by reducing the area that can be mined, on Boularderie Island and will work with the company to ensure the site is returned to its original state. A three-year moratorium was also put in place on another 13 potential coal lease sites from the former Devco lease in the CBRM.

"It is now being recognized that no development should occur within a First Nations community before First Nations people are consulted, "Marshall said. "In this project, no effort has been made to consult the First Nations people about what this project would look like as it is unfolding."

Marshall said a court injunction is costly, adding the elders want to begin the negotiation process all over again, with the strength of First Nations added to the mix.'

"We are going to try and expand on negotiations to avoid litigation. If it comes to a point where the permits will be signed off and the green lights given to the company, we'll have to take that last final step, a court injunction."

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