Seven people are shown standing in a circle in the rural landscape of the proposed Beaver Dam gold mine during a Millbrook First Nation September 2017 visit to Beaver Dam mine site with Atlantic Gold’s former manager of environment and permitting James Millard present and shown third from right (contributed)
Millbrook First Nation September 2017 visit to Beaver Dam mine site with Atlantic Gold’s former manager of environment and permitting James Millard, third from right. (contributed)

Millbrook First Nation Chief Bob Gloade knows that his band has no veto power over a new open pit gold mine planned for Beaver Dam, just a stone’s throw from a Millbrook satellite community in Halifax Regional Municipality, but he is hoping the project can be stopped through consultation.

That way, he says, there will be no need to take the case to court, something the band wants to avoid.

“We’re not in support of this project existing,” Chief Gloade tells the Examiner in a Zoom interview. “The main reason is the direct impact it is going to have on the lives of our residents in that area, and on the lives of our residents who visit that area. It’s going to disrupt a traditional way of life.”

Chief Gloade says that for Millbrook band members, hunting and fishing around Beaver Dam is “who they are and their identity.”

It’s also their survival, he says. Without the wild game, they would not be able to feed their families.

Millbrook First Nation Chief Bob Gloade (contributed)

In meetings with the federal and provincial government regulators that are currently evaluating the Beaver Dam gold mine project, and with the proponent, Atlantic Mining NS, a subsidiary of Australia’s St Barbara Ltd, Chief Gloade says he has stated the Millbrook case very clearly:

Our rights are not for sale. Our way of life and the impact on the environment is not for sale. It doesn’t matter how much gold is in that ground, you cannot replace that for our rights as Indigenous people here in this country. Because if you take that away, what have we got? We’ve got nothing.

Whether the mine is approved or not, Chief Gloade says, will depend on whether Atlantic Mining NS and government regulators are listening — and actually hearing — the Millbrook band’s concerns.

Asked if Millbrook First Nation is prepared to go to court to try to stop the mine should consultation not work, Chief Gloade replies, “Yes, we would.”

But they are hoping it won’t come to that.

A damning report

Millbrook First Nation is a Mi’kmaw community that comprises reserve lands in the town of Truro at Millbrook where it has its administrative base, as well as in Beaver Dam, Sheet Harbour, and Cole Harbour, where there are satellite communities.

Natural Resources Canada map of First Nation reserves in Nova Scotia, showing Millbrook reserve land at Beaver Dam (Beaver Lake Indian Reserve No. 17), Sheet Harbour (Reserve No. 36), Cole Harbour (Reserve No. 30), as well as in Millbrook in and around the town of Truro.

The 49.4-hectare reserve in Beaver Dam, which is on Highway 224 in Halifax Regional Municipality, was established in 1867. Some band members live there, while others have hunting camps on the reserve land.

Beaver Dam is just 30 kilometres from the Touquoy open pit gold mine at Moose River, where Atlantic Gold began production in 2017, and one of three new mines St Barbara has proposed for Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore, with two others slated for Fifteen Mile Stream and Cochrane Hill near Sherbrooke.[1]

Atlantic Gold’s map of its planned open pit gold mines in Nova Scotia. The Touquoy mine in Moose River has been in operation since late 2017, while the other three are still being assessed by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada.

Millbrook Consultation Coordinator Gerald Gloade is the author of the “Beaver Dam Community Wellness Study,” which documents the band’s concerns about the proposed Beaver Dam gold mine. The study was posted earlier this month on the website of the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada that is evaluating the Beaver Dam project.

It’s a damning report.

It details the potential – and serious — environmental effects the mine is likely to have on socio-economic and human health conditions for the Millbrook band. (As explained in Endnote 2, the names of the St Barbara companies Atlantic Gold and Atlantic Mining NS are used interchangeably in this article, as the corporate structure is not clear.[2])

Cover of the December 2021 Millbrook First Nation Wellness Study

The messages and the language in the study are unequivocal.

“Due to public outcry, we oppose the Beaver Dam mine project,” it states.

The Millbrook community says the mine would cause “irremediable problems” to the band.

And, the study says:

We see no scenario where the Beaver Dam mine does not adversely affect water quality and food security for our people.

The community as a whole (Beaver Dam, Sheet Harbour, Millbrook and Cole Harbour) agrees that the proposed Beaver Dam mine is not in the best interest of the residents of Beaver Dam I.R. [Indian Reserve] and the surrounding area.

In June of 2021, Millbrook First Nation publicly opposed the Beaver Dam mine project with a letter addressed to the Crown and the [mine] Proponent [Atlantic Mining NS]. The company swiftly replied with responses to our community’s concerns. However, our concerns are not satisfied … Our position is unchanged. Millbrook First Nation continues to oppose the development of the Beaver Dam mine.

The June letter was from Millbrook Chief Bob Gloade and Council (the Halifax Examiner reported on it here). It said the studies the band had undertaken showed that the extent of the impacts of the proposed mine on the local Mi’kmaq would be “severe” and the membership did not support the mine because “they fear for their health, their livelihoods and their way of life.”

A litany of serious concerns

“Our harvesting rights are also rights to food,” states the Millbrook study. “It is a well-established fact that communal harvesting (marine and terrestrial) help First Nations people address issues of poverty and food security in their communities.”

Millbrook community members liken the possible loss of their access to the Crown lands surrounding Beaver Dam “to the loss experienced from residential schools.”

And, says the study:

… if Millbrook band members lose access to the lands in Beaver Dam (the only place band members can exercise their harvesting rights on and near reserve land), for the life of the proposed mine, many harvesters will lose their way of life. When we consider the project could be in operation for 5-8 years, subsequent generations of young harvesters will miss out on the opportunity to learn their traditional ways.

Millbrook band members who live on the Eastern Shore depend on traditional foods, especially the protein they get from wild game.

The rural beauty of the woodlands near the proposed Beaver Dam mine site. Photo: Simon Ryder-Burbidge

A kilogram of uncooked meat or poultry purchased in a supermarket costs between $9 and $13 (and prices are rising all the time), and provides just eight to ten servings of 75 grams, or just enough for two meals for a household of four.

In contrast, a mature deer can provide 17 to 20 kilograms of cooked meat, or 227-272 servings. On average, Millbrook members on the Eastern Shore make two harvesting trips a month to catch fish or hunt deer, which they describe as “the perfect food.”

According to the wellness study:

This is a huge, missed opportunity if band members lose access to harvesting areas and if the sensory impacts [the noise, dust, air quality and seismic activity of a mine] drive wildlife (food sources) away.

And:

If Millbrook’s eastern shore band members lose access to harvestable lands and are expected to hunt elsewhere (as per the company’s proposed mitigations) the impact will not just be felt by individual harvesters and their households, but also by the people that they provide for, communally speaking.

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. It is also the only land base that is not surrounded by potential contaminants and pollutants. We wish to keep it that way, to preserve our health and so we can continue our traditional harvesting practices.

Millbrook members are also concerned about water quality, which has always been a struggle for them on the Eastern Shore. They worry that arsenic in the waste rock piles at the proposed Beaver Dam mine could affect both water and traditional food supplies.

Killag River just downstream from proposed Beaver Dam mine site where the Nova Scotia Salmon Association and others have been working for years to restore the health of the West River Sheet Harbour ecosystem for wild Atlantic salmon. Photo: Simon Ryder-Burbidge

They also point to the risk of vehicle accidents with the increased truck traffic in the area, and to the adverse mental and physical health impacts of losing lands that provide them with food and recreational opportunities, speaking of the “ecological grief” that a mine could cause.

Take your jobs and …

The Millbrook wellness study reports that when the community first started meeting with Atlantic Gold about the Beaver Dam mine project in 2015-2016, the company had said the project would “breathe new life into the economically depressed eastern shore communities,” emphasizing the positive effect of the jobs it would create.

The community was not impressed by the promises.

In December 2021, Millbrook carried out a survey and found that only one of 40 respondents said they would consider working for Atlantic Gold / Atlantic Mining NS. The one person willing to take a job said it would be only to make sure the company was “doing things proper” and “to keep the environment safe.”

Millbrook First Nation Beaver Dam site tour in Sept 2017 with Millbrook Legal Counsel Shelly Martin (left), Chief Bob Gloade (centre), and Atlantic Gold’s former manager environment and permitting, James Millard (right). (Contributed)

In its response to the mitigation measures the company proposed to appease Millbrook members, the First Nation notes that while they had have been “consulting quite heavily” on the Beaver Dam mine file for the past five years, “We feel that more effort has been put into trying to satisfy project conditions, rather than trying to satisfy the concerns of Millbrook band members.”

As for the proposal by Atlantic Mining NS that Millbrook members use five alternative harvesting areas, the First Nation consultation department notes that, “Every harvester we met with said that it was unreasonable to expect all harvesters to go hunt somewhere else.”

Furthermore, it adds, the company failed to address Millbrook concerns about food security, and the effects that the proposed gold mine would have on wild food sources.

Gerald Gloade tells the Examiner that when band members were asked what they thought about the “solutions” that Atlantic Gold proposed  to mitigate these negative effects of the mine, “they saw more problems than solutions.”

Gloade recalls a personal experience with a Millbrook member who lives in Beaver Dam:

I was sitting in one of our band member’s house, and he pointed at a sliding door in his kitchen. He said, “I just go out that door and get whatever I want whenever I want.” You can’t replace that.

Chief Bob Gloade says that a couple of the mine proponents have said to him that there wouldn’t be much impact from the mine. But for perspective, he refers to the nearby Touquoy open pit gold mine, and challenges anyone to put up with that in their back yard, especially if that back yard is a place they hunt, fish and live.

Touquoy open pit gold mine. Photo: Simon Ryder-Burbidge (above).  Below, the waste rock pile at the Touquoy mine, which Atlantic Mining NS has applied to Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change to expand. Photo: Joan Baxter

Chief Gloade offers this scenario for context:

Let’s say, for example, that they discovered gold underneath Citadel Hill [in Halifax]. Now we’re going to demolish the entire thing and dig a great big pit. We’re going to mine gold right in your back yard, whether you like it or not, because there’s gold there. Would that have an impact on the surrounding area? Would it have an impact on residents there?

Another of the recommendations made by Atlantic Gold to Millbrook First Nation is that a “community working group” be developed.

The community’s response:

This would be challenging given the fact that Millbrook Chief and Council and the community all oppose the project. A working group would require a will to see the project through to fruition and that will is not there.

The band had this recommendation for Atlantic Gold:

Cultural awareness training would be appropriate, not just for the project at hand, but for the company as a whole, for all additional mine sites (present and future).

It called for an end to environmental injustice to which First Nations communities have been subjected:

Our community has experienced a long history of decision making that has resulted in the placement of various pollution generating sites in our back yards – in all reserve land bases. It is our hope that the powers that be acknowledge this, by choosing the value of Indigenous ways of life over short-term economic benefits. We believe that Indigenous peoples are more than a “valued component” of consultation (like species at risk and wetlands) that need to be evaluated.

“If the project were to be approved and these losses [of harvesting rights and lands that provide traditional foods] occurred, we would be ignoring the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC),” the study concludes.

Truth and Reconciliation?

The Examiner contacted Dustin O’Leary, communications manager for St Barbara’s Atlantic Operations, with several questions about the Millbrook First Nation concerns about the Beaver Dam mine project, including whether the company would consider withdrawing the proposal in the name of Truth and Reconciliation.

O’Leary didn’t answer the questions, and sent instead this statement:

Nova Scotia’s First Nation communities, including the Millbrook First Nation, are the foundation of the province’s heritage and integral to our future.  Furthermore, as rightsholders to lands around our proposed mine locations, First Nations communities have an important part to play in the harmonized Federal/Provincial approvals process for mining projects.  Our Company continues to work diligently to form a positive working relationship with all First Nations communities while ensuring that a dialogue of openness and transparency is maintained.

As it relates to Beaver Dam specifically, the approvals process led by the Federal Government of Canada provides the ability for First Nations communities to consult directly with the government on all projects of interest to them.  Millbrook First Nation has been a part of that consultation process and we are pleased to have their input and the opportunity to better understand their perspectives.

We look forward to continuing to engage with Millbrook First Nation on the Beaver Dam Gold Mine Project.  Our commitment is to ensure our project plans best address areas of importance to Nova Scotia’s rightsholders and stakeholders.

Millbrook not alone in its opposition

Millbrook band members are certainly not the only ones opposed to the Beaver Dam gold mine.

In the 30 days the public had to send comments on the project to the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada after Atlantic Mining NS submitted its revised Environmental Impact Statement for Round 2 of the joint federal–provincial assessment, the IAAC received more than 250 comments on the project.

Of those, close to 200 comments express strong opposition to the mine.

Only about 50 are in support of the project, and 80% of them came from people employed by Atlantic Mining NS, with others from people in the mining industry.

On January 13, 2022, the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada sent a letter to Atlantic Gold requesting more information on the Beaver Dam mine project to address concerns raised by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans on the potential effects of the mine on fish and fish habitat, and on the concerns of Millbrook First Nation about its effects on their land use and resources.

Millbrook Chief Bob Gloade says he hopes the Millbrook concerns don’t just “go in one ear and out the other” of government regulators and Atlantic Gold.

“That’s going to be the biggest challenge,” says Chief Gloade. “Often they already have an agenda, an objective in mind. And whether that includes us or hearing us out is a concern.”

Endnotes

[1] The Halifax Examiner has reported extensively on Atlantic Gold’s mining and mineral exploration operations in Nova Scotia, all of which is available by searching the Examiner website. Recent related articles on the Beaver Dam project include:

We cannot imagine two locations less suited for extractive projects such as gold mining:” The Nova Scotia Salmon Association comes out swinging against Atlantic Gold’s plans for open pit gold mines on crucial river systems on the Eastern Shore. (December 15, 2021)

Expansion of gold mining on the Eastern Shore meeting with stuff resistance: The public and Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia have until December 16 to comment on this latest round, but in a letter from June, Millbrook First Nation said they “do not support” the mine on the Eastern Shore. (November 26, 2021)

Atlantic Gold plans to mine “paradise:” Citizens near Beaver Dam and Moose River raise the alarm about the high environmental costs of open pit gold mines in eastern Nova Scotia, the province’s “sacrifice zone.” (March 21, 2021)

Sacrificing wild Atlantic salmon for gold: A project that is undoing environmental damage from acid rain finds itself under threat from a gold mine proposed for Beaver Dam (March 4, 2021)

2] Some clarification is needed on the use of the various names of the mining companies in this article. Atlantic Gold was acquired by Australia’s St Barbara in 2019 for $722 million, and at some point St Barbara created Atlantic Mining NS as a subsidiary to operate the existing Touquoy open pit gold mine at Moose River and to submit Environmental Impact Statements for the three new mines the company proposes – Beaver Dam, Fifteen Mile Stream and Cochrane Hill – for the Eastern Shore. This has caused some confusion, given that the 32 environmental charges laid by the province are against Atlantic Mining NS, while most people still think of the company that runs the gold mine as Atlantic Gold. However, Atlantic Gold does still exist. In December 2021, head of permitting and projects for Atlantic Mining NS, Craig Hudson, used Atlantic Gold letterhead for his submission from Atlantic Mining NS Inc to the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada. The Halifax Examiner has asked St Barbara for clarification on corporate structure and relationships, but has not received that, so until it does, the Halifax Examiner is using the three names – St Barbara, Atlantic Gold, and Atlantic Mining NS – interchangeably. Statistics Canada’s Inter-corporate Ownership webpage provides a list of six St Barbara subsidiaries registered in Canada but controlled from Australia: Atlantic Gold Corporation (BC), Acadian Mining Corporation (NS), Annapolis Properties Corporation (NS), 6179053 Canada Inc. (NS), and 6927629 Canada Corp. (NS). Nova Scotia’s Registry of Joint Stocks shows that Atlantic Gold owns Atlantic Mining NS Inc., which was amalgamated from Atlantic Mining NS Corp. on March 30, 2020, and that Atlantic Mining NS Corp. was previously named D.D.V. Gold (until 2012), which obtained environmental approval from the Nova Scotia government for the Touquoy open pit gold mine in Moose River in 2008.


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Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter is an award-winning Nova Scotian journalist and author of seven books, including "The Mill: Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest." Website: www.joanbaxter.ca;...

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