SYDNEY — Eskasoni elder Elizabeth Marshall is a staunch defender of land and waters in Unama’ki (Cape Breton) and has often advocated against mining developments like the proposed Coxheath copper mine.
“My relatives were known as warriors and worked as warriors. It’s sort of been in my blood,” Marshall said. “We have a long and tremendous history in this land. We have been defending and caring for it for a long time. I want to honour my ancestors and the people I love by honouring their words and defending what they truly believed in.”
The proposed copper mine in Coxheath remains a cause of deep concern for Marshall and her community. She expressed gratitude for local allies who keep her informed about developments related to the project.
“I’m glad the non-Indigenous population are committed to this because, in the past, it was only us that were trying to do these things,” she said. “We have so much wonderful support today, and it carries a lot of weight.”
GROUP APPRECIATES SUPPORT
Keep Coxheath Clean is the main group fighting against the proposed mine. They say they appreciate the support in turn.
“We’re grateful that she is opposing this mine project, and we certainly support her,” said Keep Coxheath Clean president Laura MacNeil. “We recognize that we live in Unama’ki, the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq.”
Marshall emphasizes the Mi’kmaq’s legal title to the land in Nova Scotia, apart from a few acres in Halifax, which she says were the only lands surrendered. She questions how Nova Copper, the corporation proposing the mine, could be sure that the land they intend to purchase does not hold sacred significance.
“They’re moving into my backyard. How do they know that area doesn’t hold sacred medicines? How do they know that my families and my neighbours are not harvesting medicines and foods in that area?” she said. “We don’t want mining. We want to be able to enjoy the land and the resources in peace. That’s what we agreed to, peace and friendship.”
OTHERS IN OPPOSITION
Marshall is not the only elder from the community with concerns. Eskasoni elder Albert Marshall also expressed his issue with the proposed mine in a letter to the CBRM, shared with the Cape Breton Post.
“As you know, the government is legally and morally required to consult with First Nations communities about the transfer of land that rests on the traditional and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq,” Albert Marshall wrote. “The voice of Mi’kmaq People must be heard.”
Elizabeth Marshall is skeptical of the purported benefits of the mine, noting that damage to the environment is permanent. She stresses that putting money ahead of wellness and well-being is “crazy thinking” and highlights the need for long-term sustainable development that won’t harm the community.
“The destruction of the waters and lands for the benefit of one corporation or the benefit of one individual or two, three individuals. It’s not worth it for us. We have too much to lose,” she said.
Albert Marshall echoed this sentiment in his letter to CBRM’s council.
“Mother Earth needs to be protected and cared for by all. As elected leaders, you have a responsibility to ensure that the possibility of ‘economic development’ does not come at the cost of a toxic legacy that lasts generations – as we have seen before on this island.”
PRESENTATION TO COUNCIL SOUGHT
Keep Coxheath Clean submitted Albert Marshall’s letter to the CBRM’s mayor and council last week, along with their letter outlining steps to follow before the land is sold. One of the items listed in the letter is for Keep Coxheath Clean to be allowed to make a presentation to council.
“Part of our request is that we be given more than the 15 minutes typically allotted for Council meetings,” said MacNeil. “At least as much time as Nova Copper was given.”
The letter also demanded that the CBRM provide a proactive plan for dealing with potential adverse effects of mining. Keep Coxheath Clean’s vice president, Cheryl MacInnis, says the letter has yet to be responded to.
“We do feel that our requests and our letter on Aug. 29 were fair and reasonable requests,” MacInnis said. “We have yet to hear back from the CBRM.
Elizabeth Marshall says she’s prepared to take a stand in the face of this threat. She mentioned the possibility of occupying the land to prevent the mine from proceeding.
“We are experienced fighters; we have lots of non-violent methods to oppose and fight back. They don’t have anything but money, and money means nothing to us,” she said. “If we must physically occupy the land where they are to stop them, I don’t have any problem doing that.”
Mitchell Ferguson is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering Indigenous affairs for Cape Breton Post.
By Mitchell Ferguson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Sep 12, 2023 at 05:30