May 29, 1997 Halifax Herald

Highlands ecosystem plan ignores human rights

Under the project "GREATER HIGHLANDS ECOSYSTEM, An Area Of Cooperation," about 50 percent of Cape Breton Islandís land base and a large chunk of its off-shore waters are slated to become protected areas. In view of the extent of the area covered, a conclusion that the government is going overboard may not be far off base.

Also, the government's use of the term "an area of cooperation" in connection with the project is hypocritical. They have adopted a cavalier attitude in their approach and are mostly ignoring and shuttling aside the concerns of the local people. Is this cooperation?

Before proceeding, I wish to state that I am supportive of environmental protection. I voluntarily appeared, to offer support, before the committee that the government had charged with the responsibility of traveling over Nova Scotia to collect views from citizens on its protected-areas proposal. However, my support of environmental protection undertakings is contingent upon the protection of the rights of any local people who are displaced, dislocated, or otherwise harmed by such. With few exceptions, no matter how worthy the endeavours, environmental protection must be realized in cooperation, not in confrontation, with the people most affected by it.

In this instance, I support the goals of the endeavour; itís the method being used to realize these goals that I reject. The negative confrontation which governments have incompetently stumbled into with many of the Highlands peoples (Acadians, Scots, etc.) who see their communities, homes, livelihoods, recreation areas, etc., threatened by the inclusion of their lands in the Highlands Ecosystem project, without their informed consent, does not set well with my belief in the predominance of the rights of the community and individuals in such matters. If the project is positive for people, has benefits for them, then it can be sold to them. It must not be rammed down their throats!

What is missing in this instance, as it was in the instance of the government's expropriation of the lands needed for the Cape Breton Highlands National Park in the 1930s, is respect for the rights of the people who are most affected. It appears that governments cannot appreciate the fact that people who have centuries-old connections with ancestral lands have strong ties with those lands, and with the communities their ancestors built around them. You just don't unilaterally break these ties and expect the people to kiss your boots in gratitude. When it comes to public encroachment upon ancestral lands political attitudes must change. This is the 1990s, not imperial times; the human needs of citizens must come first.

With diligence and hard work a settlement with justice for all can be found. However, before it can be found, government must accept that it has an ethical responsibility to negotiate in good faith with the locals affected. And, it must also accept that compensation has to made for the loss of a way of life, not just for the loss of physical properties. Something of value must be given for a heritage destroyed, or badly altered. I offer this advice to the parties concerned.

*To the environmentalists: Don't be blind to everything but the need to see the ecosystem protected. Stop and consider the human needs of your brothers and sisters in the Highlands. Put yourselves in their places and appreciate the threat they see to their livelihoods. Help find a way to insure that their rights are protected and that their concerns are addressed.

In the meantime, if you have a need to get involved in urgent environmental matters, try working at resolving the tar sands issue in Sydney, and try to get a cleanup of Pictou County's Boat Harbour underway.

*To the vandals who think that they are helping their cause by destroying public property: Your not! If you want to protest, have sit-ins and use other peaceful methods to get your message across. Your cause is just; don't screw it up by using acts of violence.

*To the Provincial Government: If you want to avoid a situation which will leave a legacy of decades of smouldering resentment among the affected people for others to deal with, as was the establishment of the National Park in the 1930s, try being honest with the people affected and compensate them fairly. A fair solution is in the best interests of everyone concerned; an unfair one creates resentment akin to a festering sore.

*To the Federal Government: Ponder this quote from a June 6, 1994, letter written to the former Minister of Natural Resources Don Downe by your Cape Breton Highlands National Park A/Supt. Tim Reynolds: "This national park applauds your proposed Systems Plan for Parks and Protected areas in Nova Scotia...(and) has recognized for several years the need for regional multi-party management of lands in northern Cape Breton..." Then, to help win acceptance of the project, consider adding a postscript such as this to his statement: We have, in order to realize an equitable resolution of their long outstanding grievances, a moral responsibility to participate in honest and meaningful negotiations with the Highlands Peoples!

Daniel N. Paul


Home   Column Index 1998   Web Site Map