Giving voice to Indigenous concerns about wellness
A study on food security and other health and cultural issues contributes to the broader scope of issues now being considered in assessments.
By Beth Gorham, Freelance Writer
Disclaimer: This article has been commissioned to show how the impact assessment process works and how the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAAC) engages the public and Indigenous groups in a variety of ways. As it concerns an ongoing assessment, it is important to note that the views expressed in it do not reflect those of IAAC, the Minister or the Government of Canada and are illustrative only. Readers should refer to the Canadian Impact Assessment Registry for the most complete information about this project: Beaver Dam Mine Project.
When Gerald Gloade, a member of the Millbrook First Nation, started researching the potential impact of a proposed gold mine in Beaver Dam, he wasn’t sure what to expect.
In 2018, the consultation manager for Millbrook First Nation helped coordinate a traditional land and resource usage study that documented the land and harvesting activity among Millbrook band members. In 2020, he embarked on a wellness study, but due to the pandemic, he had to try something new - visiting families in their homes to develop a detailed portrait of how they live and the challenges they face.
What surprised him most was the discovery of how much more people in Beaver Dam and the neighbouring community of Sheet Harbour pay for food compared to more centrally located towns (like Truro and Halifax) – up to 20 per cent more.
"It is already hard enough for them [Millbrook First Nations members]," says Gloade. "They can’t afford it. That is why traditional foods are so important. They need access to the land in order to hunt and fish."
Gloade’s Beaver Dam Community Wellness Study became public in early 2022. It details the Band’s concerns about the proposed mine, including adverse impacts on food security, water quality and mental health.
"We know from our community engagement and consultation work that the eastern shore communities rely heavily upon traditional foods," says the report. "Especially when it comes to putting protein on the table, in the form of wild game."
Protein from trout, deer and other traditional foods is especially critical when meat prices are so high in the local grocers and supermarkets of remote communities, like Millbrook’s satellite reserves in Beaver Dam and Sheet Harbour.
"Beaver Dam is currently the only location within our land base that we can exercise our harvesting rights, both on and off-reserve in the immediate proximity," the report notes. "It is also the only land base that is not surrounded by potential contaminants and pollutants."
With support from the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAAC), Gloade was able to take a more holistic look at the community and consider health issues, as well as traditional culture and lifestyle.
A wider scope of issues is now considered in assessments of major projects by IAAC, which replaced the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency in 2019. The Impact Assessment Act, which came into force that year, calls for consideration of social, health and gender impacts of potential projects in addition to economic and environmental issues. IAAC also emphasizes scientific evidence, Indigenous Knowledge, broad consultation with communities and extensive partnerships with government bodies, industry and diverse experts.
Kathryn MacCarthy, project manager in IAAC’s Atlantic Regional Office, cites a long list of organizations that have supported the assessment, including the province of Nova Scotia, federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Natural Resources Canada and Health Canada. IAAC is currently waiting for Atlantic Mining NS Inc. to provide the required information and studies that will inform IAAC’s environmental assessment report, which is provided to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to support his decision.
Beyond an online registry that contains all key milestones, reports and other information, a public comment period gathered the views of more than 350 people who wanted to weigh in on developing an open pit mine in Beaver Dam.
"We try to conduct the process in a respectful and thoughtful manner," says MacCarthy. "We listen and consider all the comments, which is important when the issues are complex and difficult to resolve. I feel like this is my small contribution toward reconciliation. I want to do my part."
For Gloade, the experience has been "open and transparent."
"It gives us a voice and a platform to share our concerns," explains Gloade.
The eastern shore First Nation communities have had a long struggle with maintaining safe drinking water in band-owned homes. Indigenous residents have dealt with high levels of arsenic, bacteria and suspended particles, a problem they worry could get worse with a mine nearby.
And potential mental health effects are associated with ecological grief and frustrations surrounding the project’s sensory impacts and loss of access to lands.
"Indigenous residents have grown accustomed to the quiet pristine location, which would change in terms of noise, light, air quality and seismic activity," says the Millbrook First Nation's report.
Beyond providing input on the mine project, the land use and wellness studies have proved beneficial to the Millbrook First Nation community in the long term.
"We actually used the studies to establish a food security working group," says Gloade, who has chaired the working group since the summer of 2022.
The food security working group developed a food basket program that provides up to $100 worth of grocery staples to band homes on-reserve in Beaver Dam and Sheet Harbour every two months.
"IAAC’s process is definitely an improvement," he says. "It’s not perfect. There is still a lot of work to be done. But it is going in the right direction."
- Wellness Study
- A traditional land and resource usage study that documents the land and harvesting activity among First Nation band members.
- Impact Assessment
- A planning and decision-making tool used to assess the potential positive and negative effects of proposed projects.
- Meaningful engagement means that the public is provided with opportunities to take part in the impact assessment process; has the information they need to participate; has the capacity to participate in an informed manner; and is able to see that their input was considered.
- The Government of Canada has a duty to consult Indigenous Peoples to ensure respect and protection of their rights. The Agency is the federal lead and coordinator for Crown-Indigenous consultations on impact assessments. The Agency is committed to respecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples as recognized and affirmed in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and as required by the Impact Assessment Act and by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.
- Food security
- The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations states that a person is food insecure when they lack regular access to enough safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development and an active and healthy life.
- Impact Assessment Act
- The Act came into force in August 2019, repealing the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012). The Act is designed to reflect the needs and values of Indigenous Peoples, the public and industry. It reflects a commitment to transparency, predictability and sustainability.
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