by Hilary Beaumont
It’s a story that hits the heart, and that’s why he wants to tell it.
Jonathan Beadle lost his cousin to cancer. They were like brothers.
It was a rare kind of cancer. “They often say that to anyone who has fallen ill in my community,” Beadle says.
His cousin had tumours protruding from his jaw, cheek, and eye, Beadle remembers.
Sweet grass burns in a vessel on the podium in front of him, and the sugary-smelling smoke forms a comforting cloud around him.
Beadle, a resident of Pictou Landing First Nation, is here to speak about Boat Harbour to an audience of 180 people who are mobilizing against environmental racism in Nova Scotia. Tuesday evening, academics, activists, students, and other concerned Haligonians gathered at Dalhousie to hear keynote speakers, watch a short documentary, and participate in round-table discussions.
According to speakers at the event, environmental racism is the disproportionate placement of hazards near racialized and impoverished communities. It has happened historically across the province, and is still happening today.
“I want to tell you, Boat Harbour is literally in my community’s backyard,” Beadle says.
Since 1967, a paper mill has pumped toxic wastewater into Boat Harbour, a tidal lagoon next to the Pictou Landing reserve. Over the years, band members and non-Mi’kmaq residents have made their concerns heard, and have heard many promises, but nothing has been done to clean up the harbour.
Last June, however, the problem finally received serious consideration from the province when a pipe burst, spewing untreated effluent into the harbour. Pictou Landing band members blocked workers from fixing the pipe, which kept the mill closed.
Beadle asked those seated in the audience to raise their hands if they had heard of Boat Harbour. Most people put their arms up.
But there are other little-known cases of environmental racism across Nova Scotia, and those communities want their stories heard, too.
For years, Lincolnville, a black community in northeast Nova Scotia, has sounded the alarm about two dumps that were placed nearby—one in the 1970s and another in 2006.
North Preston residents are also worried about a nearby dump. The African Nova Scotian community is currently organizing against the installation of wind turbines in the area.
The Otter Lake landfill was placed next door to the African Nova Scotian community of Beechville.
Industrial hazards and dumps are located near Membertou First Nation.
The Yarmouth reserve in the Acadia First Nation was built on a junkyard for car parts.
Today, after generations of displaced families told their stories, Haligonians should know how the city treated Africville.
The city of Halifax placed a prison, disposal pits for human feces, an infectious disease hospital and other industrial hazards in and around the African Nova Scotian community. The city also refused to extend basic services to Africville, including water and fire protection. In the 1960s, local newspapers described the suburb as a black ghetto and a blight on the city of Halifax. This mentality combined with the popular idea of urban renewal led the city to demolish and relocate the community.
The message at Tuesday’s event was: across the province, Africville is happening again.
Residents from marginalized African Nova Scotian and Mi’kmaq communities shared their stories with the researchers who organized Tuesday’s event.
According to the group’s report, across the province hazardous sites including dumps and toxic plants are situated near racialized communities, and residents from those areas are reporting high rates of cancer and other illnesses.
The researchers commissioned a documentary team to tell these stories. You can watch the entire 30-minute film here:
In the documentary, which screened Tuesday night, residents from North Preston warn they will become “another Africville.”
Lincolnville resident Mary Desmond says her husband died of cancer. “I feel like I am ripped off by the federal government, the provincial government, and the municipal government. And nobody cares. They don’t care.”
Tuesday evening, Beadle told the audience he doesn’t think the general population knows about environmental racism, but he hopes that will change.
“I hope this group will walk away from this telling family and friends about the experience they had tonight,” he said.
“It’s the government who needs to listen,” he concluded.
It took me a while, but I found a link to what I believe is an excellent research publication on environmental racism in Nova Scotia. It was done by Lori Anne Fryzuk in 1996, under the tutelage of the late Rocky Jones.
It was my first introduction to the topic, and as a relatively new resident of Nova Scotia, I found it to be a real eye-opener. Here is a link to that research: http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/obj/s4/f2/dsk3/ftp04/mq24966.pdf
There has been a long history of environmental racism in Nova Scotia. But that does not mean every project in the vicinity of a black community is environmental racism. I was very involved in the siting of the Otter Lake landfill and the siting had nothing to do with race, but instead only environmental criteria. It is also closer to the predominantly white communities of Lakeside and Timberlea than it is to Beechville and is about the same distance from Goodwood. Certainly not “next door” to Beechville.
Also, there are wind farms going up all around Nova Scotia and the world. Are they examples of environmental racism?
There is no doubt that there are many examples of environmental racism in Nova Scotia. It is important however, to call racism only where it exists, and not at every opportunity, lest people begin to dismiss the issue as bogus. It is not.
Thanks, Hilary. A very thought provoking article and thanks for posting the video. It is not a surprise that activities and sites that harm the environment are most often located in or near poorer populations. It is a fact that racial minorities make up the largest proportion of poor people in this problem. So yes, environmental racism is a reality in this province. It is also fair to say that environmental degradation is a class issue and the current fracking controversy is the best example. While the movers and shakers and opinion makers in Halifax whine about how great it would be for our poor country cousins if we could only let them get fracked, everyone knows that most of the economic benefit will flow directly to the business elite in Halifax. One commentator recently stated that fracking is “worth the risk”. Sure it’s worth the risk, because it won’t be happening in Bedford, South End Halifax or Chester.
Allow me to check my privilege for a moment here; I can think of dumps and housing that white people live on near power generation too. Second street in Trenton comes to mind. My childhood home was literally built on top of a dump, and a block away from a coal power plant. I moved to southwest NS in 1997, and not too long after there were wind turbines built in Pubnico; that’s a predominantly Acadian (read: white french canadian) area.
Wind turbines aren’t an negative environmental issue. At all. Period. “The African Nova Scotian community is currently organizing against the installation of wind turbines in the area.” Why? That’s NIMBYism at its worst, now under colour of racism.
You’re confusing cause and effect here. Industrial development has always happened in low income areas. Racial minorities are often low income. Guess what: White people are often low income. PEOPLE are often low income.
The general population doesn’t know about “environmental racism” because it’s not an actual thing. Environmental issues need to be addressed; but blaming them on racism diminishes both.