Native groups demand protection of Gulf from oil and gas development
Chiefs from the Innu, Maliseet and Mi’gmaq Nations are demanding that federal party leaders tell voters whether they will protect the Gulf of St. Lawrence’s unique and vital ecosystem.
With Québec proposing to open the Gulf of St. Lawrence to oil and gas exploration, Chief Jean-Charles Piétacho of the Innu of Ekuanitshit said in a news release, “This is an issue that affects the livelihoods of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in five provinces and it is the federal government’s responsibility to protect them.”
The release notes that last month, Québec announced it would lift a moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the Gulf and begin granting permits once legislation is in place. Newfoundland has already granted an exploration permit at the Old Harry Prospect, northeast of the Magdelen Islands, but drilling has not yet been allowed.
It says both Québec and Newfoundland’s powers are from the federal government and they will need federal government approval for major decisions. Old Harry is at the boundary used by Canada to assign each province its regulatory authority.
“The Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico five years ago was an exploration well, like what the provincial governments want to allow,” said Chief Scott Martin of the Mi’gmaq of Listuguj. “We want federal party leaders to tell the people of New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Québec whether they are willing to risk that kind of catastrophe in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.”
A strategic environmental assessment by Québec concluded that a catastrophe on the scale of Deepwater Horizon is “plausible” if exploration goes ahead. The native groups stress in their news release that results would be devastating for a commercial fishery around the Gulf worth $1.5 billion annually and a tourism industry that generates another $800 million per year.
The Innu, Maliseet and Mi’gmaq communities of Québec formed an alliance in 2013 for the protection of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. At the Assembly of First Nations meeting in Halifax in 2014, Maliseet and Mi’gmaq chiefs from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick joined them in calling for a moratorium.
“The salmon has sustained our peoples since time immemorial and it migrates through the Gulf before it returns to our rivers to spawn,” said Grand Chief Anne Archambault of the Viger Maliseet First Nation. “We have rights protected under the Constitution to harvest what the Gulf gives to us and those rights take precedence over oil and gas.”