Membertou officials to discuss community's role in tar ponds cleanup with federal negotiator

By Tanya Collier Macdonald
Cape Breton Post
Wed., May 26, 2004

SYDNEY - Officials of the First Nations community are planning to meet with a federal negotiator Friday to discuss its role in the cleanup of the Sydney tar ponds and coke ovens sites. "We're trying to determine whether or not the federal government is going to live up to it's fiduciary duty to protect Membertou's interest," said Bernd Christmas, chief executive officer.

"We're also looking at whether or not the federal government is going to deal with the destruction of our traditional lands as well as the fishery in that area."

Christmas said First Nations communities have a constitutional right to commercial fish and the upcoming negotiations with Alphonse Cormier will ensure those rights are met.

As well, the community wants to know what Ottawa has in mind specifically when it comes to the cleanup. "We're not talking to anyone else until that has been settled," said Christmas. "This is an ongoing matter that has been going on for years and years."

Christmas said a number of companies have approached Membertou officials to build partnerships in relation to the cleanup. However, he said no commitment has been made to date.

Elizabeth May, executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, said she has met with representatives from Membertou and said the community's proposal previously was to play a lead role in the cleanup, which was "fascinating and worth considering," she said. "Instead of a big consulting firm, you would have Membertou First Nations organizing and co-ordinating the cleanup."

May said there is no formal alliance between Membertou and the Sierra Club of Canada, but the community has a lot of "interesting" connections with private sector interests in terms of what may be possible when it comes to the cleanup.

Membertou and the Sierra Club have a well-known connection involving a gypsum mine owned by Georgia-Pacific in the small community of Melford. May was on the side of residents who feared they would be impacted by the mine and Christmas was working on a deal that would benefit Cape Breton's native communities.

In the end Membertou successfully negotiated one-quarter of the jobs created by the mining and all contracts were offered to native-owned companies before going out to tender. The community also gets royalties on gypsum mined at the site, money which is devoted to the Unama'ki Institute of Natural Resources.

A chunk of forest at Georgia-Pacific's Sugar Camp site was handed over to the First Nations communities and the Sierra Club to manage jointly once May agreed to back down from her protests on behalf of the Melford residents.