Last summer, the Wolastoqey Mothers and Grandmothers took to the water to stop the spraying of Noxfish Fish Toxicant II in a lake within our unceded and unsurrendered territory. We found out about this spraying only two days before the planned chemical application despite our right to be consulted about activities that will impact our territory.
With two days notice, then, we were told that a working group intended to implement a “nuclear option” to deal with a smallmouth bass population. Their plan would potentially (but not certainly) “eradicate” smallmouth bass from the lake and river system, but it would also indiscriminately kill 100,000s of other fish, aquatic crustaceans (the food of wading birds), aquatic insects, immature stages of amphibians, and zooplankton (the base of the food chain).
According to a report from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), application of “the NOXFISH FISH TOXICANT II will result in the death of the targeted species, Smallmouth Bass, and all other fish in the defined authorized treatment area(s). The deposit of Noxfish II will modify the food web, the fish ecological structure and the nutrient input in the project area as a result of the anticipated death and subsequent decomposition of fish, insects, and other invertebrates.” These impacts do not consider the devastation to other animals that depend on this food web: nesting bald eagles, loons, fish-eating ducks, king fishers, osprey, herons, sand pipers, otters, and little brown bats, to mention just a few, would lack critical food.
Mothers and Grandmothers met with representatives from DFO and with members of the Smallmouth Bass Eradication Working Group to ask that they pause their project until we had been given a chance to learn more about what was happening in our territory. Both DFO and Neville Crabbe of the Atlantic Salmon Federation informed us that they could not afford to pause the project and that it would move forward as planned.
We did not accept this response, and so we took to the water to exercise our inherent rights, to force the project proponents to revisit their obligations to Wolastoqey People, to protect the water and the vibrant life of a complex ecosystem, and to stop the spraying of poison in Miramichi Lake.
The Crown is obliged to consult with Indigenous communities when their rights and interests are impacted by proposed action within their territories. The Crown may delegate consultation to private entities, like the SMB working group, but this does not transfer the duty to consult to those entities. In other words, the Crown is not absolved from responsibility for failures in consultation as a result of delegating the consultation process to a private entity.
In the case of Miramichi Lake, DFO and the working group have acknowledged that a duty to consult Wolastoqey communities arises from the proposed eradication of Smallmouth Bass in Miramichi Lake, Lake Brook, and SW Miramichi River. According to working group documents on “Indigenous Engagement” submitted to the Province of New Brunswick under its EIA registration, the working group claims that an individual within its ranks became aware that the proposed “treatment” area fell within Wolastoqey traditional territory sometime near the end of 2018. It was this that triggered engagement with the Wolastoqey People.
The working group first engaged with the Maliseet Nation Conservation Council and later the Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick (WNNB), two corporate entities with mandates to assist the Wolastoqey People in protecting our traditional territory and lifeways.
This invites several important questions that I would like the people of New Brunswick to understand as the Mothers and Grandmothers prepare, once more, to take to the water this summer:
1. Why didn’t the Crown engage with the Wolastoqey People at an earlier date?
The Crown’s involvement in the question of addressing the introduction of SMB into Miramichi Lake, and subsequent events, began in 2008. All of New Brunswick is within unceded Wabanaki Territory, and though the lines between Peskotomuhkati, Wolastoqey, and Mi’kmaq territories are not clearly defined, the Crown must be alive to the fact that its activities within New Brunswick will trigger a duty to consult with one or more Wabanaki nations. That the consultation process was initiated by someone within the working group, and at such a late point in the process, is the first failure of the Crown in this process.
2. How could DFO approve the working group’s application without ensuring consultation had taken place?
It is clear from the working group’s documentation that communities were never consulted and that two corporate entities were engaged instead – this is not consultation. WNNB committed to bringing the issue to the communities if certain conditions were met – but those conditions were never met. WNNB could have facilitated consultation if their conditions had been met, but it does not hold rights, nor is it delegated to act as the consultation entity for the Wolastoqey People.
DFO’s approval of the application without ensuring consultation occurred is the Crown’s second failure. The Crown in Right of New Brunswick (what the Crown is referred to within the province) also bears responsibility here. It is well established that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process engages the duty to consult. The Provincial Crown granted authorization under the EIA regime without engaging the Wolastoqey People and thus consultation was incomplete.
3. Where do we go from here?
The Wolastoqey People must be consulted, and while the working group held information sessions in four of the six Wolastoq communities, the consultation process is far from over. Many of the concerns raised by our community members were not addressed, and the plan remains the same one that was developed and finalized before our communities were even approached. DFO must suspend its authorization pending the completion of proper consultation. DFO must take ownership of its duty to consult. While the working group may lead consultation, it is incumbent upon the Crown to ensure the process is satisfied.
The Province of New Brunswick must suspend its authorization under the EIA to ensure that consultation is complete. As above, it is not sufficient to simply off-load the duty to consult onto the working group; the Crown must ensure its duty to consult is met.
Long ago, before settlers, we used this land. It was abundant; there was caribou and salmon. We called the territory around Miramichi Lake Nap-a-hog-gun, which means the killing place in Wolustukyik. When settlers came, they saw the abundance of this land and asked to take some. They started logging and taking, first on a small scale, then they wanted more, took more. Since settlers came, this land has been repeatedly violated with no time to rest.
And we say, enough.
This entire watershed area is to be protected. Not for just skigin, but for all who live here. This is our fresh water source. The Mothers and Grandmothers protected the Sisson mine project area. Today, no one can cut or spray there, and we will continue to protect and to expand that protected area.
We stopped the spraying of poison in Miramichi Lake last year, but a year later, none of our concerns have been addressed, and meaningful consultation has yet to be engaged in by the project proponents.
We are here for the heart of our land. We will not let you poison the heart; it will be our demise.
Terry Ann Sappier is a writer and land defender from the community of Neqotkuk with a long history of advocacy for her people and nation in conflicts with corporations, industry, and non-Indigenous government bodies. She was a contributor to Letters from the Future (Chapel Street Editions, 2021), and she is a member of the board at Connecting to the Land.