We are in the midst of a climate emergency. Indigenous ecology and western science agree that we need to change our relationship to our environment to safeguard future access to clean drinking water, reduce atmospheric carbon, and ensure biodiversity. We also need access to wild spaces for health, enjoyment, and cultural use. How do we get there?
It’s a swamp thing.
Wetlands do the work of carbon sequestration and water filtration, they provide habitat and breeding grounds for wildlife, are home to diverse flora and pollinators, and they are an abundant source for food, medicine, and pleasure. They are ecological and environmental powerhouses.
They are also at risk.
Approximately 6.6 per cent of the total land area of Nova Scotia is wetlands – a dramatic decline since the time before European contact, when as much as 18 per cent of the Halifax Penninsula alone was made up of wetland areas. Development in these vulnerable regions – driven in large part by capitalist development and a historical and enduring settler disdain for these supercharged biomes – have underwritten polices that result in backfilling, paving, and otherwise destroying them. Today, only one substantial wetland remains in the area – at Eisner Cove.
The region was protected as provincially stewarded crown land until 2012 when it was transferred to Innovacorp, a provincial crown corporation. In 2020, without public consultation, the Southdale Future Growth Node – which includes the Eisner Cove Wetlands – was sold by the province as part of a $680,000 deal with A.J. Legrow Holdings Limited. This node is one of nine municipal areas which have had housing development plans fast-tracked to produce 22,600 new housing units. Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, John Lohr, has final say of development approval, bypassing established municipal processes that would adequately consider public interest and environmental impacts. In January 2022, Clayton Developments began clearcutting forest to create roads through the node.
Residents and land protectors are concerned about the impact development will have on these wetlands and their protective, but now disrupted, belt of woodland. Organizers have also expressed outrage over the sale of Crown and government-stewarded land without apparent consultation with Mi’kmaw Treaty holders or the general public at large. According to the Nova Scotia government, crown land, “is a collective asset which belongs to all of us.” As no Treaties in Mi’kma’ki deal with the surrender of lands, and provincial crown lands are held in trust for the citizenry, public and transparent consultation with all Nova Scotians – especially the Mi’kmaq people – should have occurred before the sale was initiated.
Mi’kmaw Grandmother Darlene Gilbert also known as Thunderbird Swooping Down Woman wants to know how that happened. She told me that the “back door deal” signed away her treaty rights, which allow for the collection of medicine. On walks through the muskeg – the place of medicine – Grandmother Gilbert noted balsam fir, hemlock, golden thread, bunchberries, ghost (pipe) plant, and several other medicines, many of which will be lost if the development goes ahead. She is upset and concerned that the ecosystem is being attacked – doubly so because she is just learning about these plants and their uses now, having been cut off from her cultural traditions by the 60s Scoop.
Members of the Defend Eisner Cove Wetlands Society and their allies have maintained a presence at the site since mid-August in an attempt to halt development. There is an appeal underway in the hopes of preventing construction of a roadway which would bisect the wetlands. There is also a signage campaign, and an active social media presence attached to these actions. Despite these efforts, both the province and developers have been unwilling to halt development so far.
The Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act (EGCCRA) – which provides a framework for building “sustainable prosperity” in the province – explicitly states that the government intends to modernize the environmental assessment process to take “into consideration cumulative impacts, diversity, equity and inclusion, independent review, Netukulimk, and climate change.” That document also insists that “the achievement of sustainable prosperity in the Province must include Netukulimk.” Netukulimk is the Mi’kmaq word for balancing the right to resources and the “responsibility to use those resources in a sustainable way.”
Development that interrupts the function and integrity of wetlands, which offer so much in terms of ecological diversity and as a climate regulator, are definitively not in accordance with Netukulimk or, in turn, the NS EGCCRA. Grandmother Thunderbird Swooping Down Woman believes the word is not being applied properly, stating bluntly that, “they are not taking what they need. [They should] find another place.”
Things are moving quickly – and not in a positive direction. Last week four land defenders were arrested by Halifax Regional Police – including Grandmother Thunderbird Swooping Down Woman, who waved a feather at an officer. Brush fires have occurred on-site. Construction equipment, reportedly leaking hydraulic fluid, has been used to clearcut a large swath of trees. Without immediate intervention, more land and its resident wildlife will be lost.
Wetlands are integral to any reasonable carbon emissions reduction planning, and they are sacred lands to be protected for generations to come. Worse, once they deteriorate, wetlands are costly to restore, and their environmental contributions are impossible to reproduce effectively. If government is committed to reducing carbon emissions, meeting climate emergency targets, and respecting and reflecting Indigenous knowledges, they cannot move forward with wetlands development.
Wetland protection, conservation, and restoration will help Canada to meet obligations under the Paris Agreement. Write to your local MP and ask them to protect wetlands Canada-wide so that they can continue to trap and store carbon for hundreds, or even thousands of years. Remind them that government-owned lands are held in trust, and that Indigenous communities – and all Canadians – should be consulted before selling them off!
Ask your local MLAs, MPs, and HRM municipal councillors to step in and halt development at Eisner Cove, and to advocate for alternative sites for the build. Remind them that we can have affordable housing AND healthy biodiversity!
Tell Minister John Lohr directly that you are against the development at Eisner Cove. Call or write to his office and ask him to find another site for the proposed development.
Visit the site and speak with the organizers about their work, volunteer to sit in, bring your friends!
Contact the Halifax Chapter of The Council of Canadians or your Regional Organizer to learn more about their work in response to the Climate Emergency, housing accessibility, Indigenous Solidarity and more!