Chief Raymond Francis
1931 - 2008
October 2, 1998 Halifax Herald
On the Boat Harbour trail of lies and deceit
On the Boat Harbour trail of lies and deceit
Chief Raymond Francis was born August 28, 1931, (passed away January 21, 2008) on Pictou Landing Indian Reserve, to the late Roddie and Helen (Prosper) Francis, the third youngest of three boys and a girl. He attended the reserve's Indian day school and then went to the University of Life. He married his late beloved wife, Margaret Rose Nicholas, on May 6, 1958, they had four children. The reserve where Ray was born, raised, and raised his own family, is located on the shores of the Northumberland Strait.
Ray's Father and Grandfather harvested fish from the strait and Boat Harbour, and taught the boys the tricks of the trade. In 1950, using their fish harvesting knowledge, Ray and brother, Dennis, set up a commercial fishing operation with Boat Harbour as home base. Their main catches were lobsters and eels.
They earned a decent wage from the operation until the province, in the mid 1960s, started using the harbour as an industrial waste lagoon. The shocking way the province got permission from the Band to use the harbour as a lagoon for the Scott Paper Company pulp mill at Abercrombie Point is the basis of a sad story.
The lies and underhanded methods used by governments to convince the Pictou Landing Mi'kmaq to give up their riparian rights in Boat Harbour and unknowingly consent to its use as an industrial waste lagoon are far to complex to entirely relate here.
It suffices to say that the people were told that afterwards they would still be able to use the harbour for recreation, fishing, swimming, etc. When the industrial waste began flowing from the mill, the truth soon became evident to the Mi'kmaq: their beautiful harbour had been turned into a stinking cesspool.
Ray began his fight to have the situation corrected almost immediately. He ran for Chief of the Band in 1967 and was sworn into office on November 30 that year. From this point to 1981, he explored, with marginal success, many avenues to try to right the wrong perpetuated against the Band. He consulted lawyers, the Union of Nova Scotia Indians, the Indian Affairs department, the provincial government, etc.
In early 1981 he called my office for an appointment to discuss the matter. I was then employed by Indian Affairs as District Supt., Lands Revenues and Trusts for Nova Scotia. As he didn't plan to re-offer for Chief in 1983, this was a last-ditch effort by Ray to get the fight off the ground before he stepped down.
On the appointed day, Ray recited a quick overview of the Boat Harbour mess. I then gave him a preliminary opinion, confirmed after I had reviewed the Boat Harbour files, to the effect that the reason he had had little success to date in his fight for justice, was that he was going after the wrong party, the province.
I explained to him that the province, although heavily involved in the deceit, could not have used Boat Harbour without the approval of the federal department which carries the Crown's Constitutional responsibility to protect the rights of Indians and the integrity of their lands - Indian Affairs - which, in the case of Boat Harbour, it had failed to do in every manner.
Ray then asked if I would get involved in trying to resolve the problem. This is where I ran into a serious conflict of interest: Indian Affairs was interested in protecting the Crown's monetary interests and I was interested in finding justice for the Band.
My Mi'kmaq heritage, coupled with a strong desire to right a grievous wrong, demanded that I help the Band. Thus, without any feelings of regret, but taking a considerable risk with my family's economic well-being, I agreed to assist the Band in its fight with the department.
However, after the fight was over, I've jokingly told Ray that if I had known the trying times in store because of the problem he brought me that day, I would have got up and closed the door when I saw him coming.
It seems, upon reflection, the department was hell bent and determined to find a way to keep the Band distracted from the department itself. It proposed a partnership arrangement which would see it and the band explore ways for the Band to get redress from the province.
I informed the Band that this was a dead-end street but, in spite of my opinion, the Band joined the departmentí effort. But, after several months, when the Band discovered that the Department was being less than candid with them, it dumped the arrangement.
While this was going on, I had introduced the Band Council to legal council Tony Ross, who reviewed the files and concurred in my opinion that the Department of Indian Affairs was the culprit. This was followed by a ten year odyssey which saw the Band build a case so strong the department eventually threw in the towel and opted for a negotiated settlement.
The Band received 35 million, some land, and a promise from both levels of government that they would, early in the next century, clean up Boat Harbour.
The people of Pictou Landing Band owe a great deal to Chief Ray Francis. Without his persistence, the whole Boat Harbour issue would almost surely still be in limbo. Hats off to a persistent and dedicated hero!
Ironically, despite all his work, Ray and his brother Dennis, have had only limited success in trying to recover compensation for the loss of their business from the Boat Harbour Settlement Fund.
Another irony. For several years, nefarious rumours have been spread that I was paid a great deal of money for the work I did on the claim. The most ridiculous rumour claims I got $2 million.
For the countless hours of vacation time, nights and weekends that I gave up to help settle the case, I state categorically, with the exception of a token expense payment of $2,000, I have received not one nickel, let alone millions.
Daniel N. Paul