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Defaced Mi’kmaq billboard should raise an alarm

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KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Earlier this week a familiar billboard near the Nova Scotia – New Brunswick border was defaced with anti-Mi’kmaq racist graffiti. It has since been cleaned up.

The billboard, designed by Mi’kmaq artist Leonard Paul, welcomes visitors and returning Nova Scotians to the Land of the Mi’kmaq. Somebody spray painted the words “NS needs the Mill” on the billboard, suggesting that the closure of Northern Pulp is the fault of Pictou Landing First Nation.

As I wrote earlier, that same flawed narrative is common on social media, often interlaced with anti-Indigenous tropes and coming from people who say that they are directly or indirectly affected by the closure of the mill in Pictou County. Not everybody opposed to the Northern Pulp closure engages in this behaviour, but a vocal minority does for sure, fanned on by the likes of Rebel Media.    

See also: First there was the stench of the mill, now there is the stench of racism

The defacement of the billboard is a bit of an escalation. More of the same of what we are witnessing on social media, just more in your face.

But the residents of Pictou Landing First Nation did nothing to deserve this. Both the current and preceding provincial governments and pulp mill incarnations are to blame for the terrible mess we’re in today. 

The people of Pictou Landing First Nation were deceived and ignored by the mill, bureaucrats and politicians for decades. The community didn’t cause the closure of the mill. 

Forestry and mill workers are the most recent victims, but they should aim their anger where it belongs, a company that liked to play high stakes poker with little regard for its workers, and politicians of all stripes that went along. 

Too many voters simply got tired of these shenanigans, leaving all three parties with little choice but to endorse the Boat Harbour Act. 

In an earlier article I suggested that organizations such as Unifor, Northern Pulp management, forestry associations, anybody that holds sway with forestry and mill workers, speak out against this type of racism.

In a story on the billboard defacement Saltwire Network reporter Darrell Cole quotes the general manager of the Athol Forestry Cooperative as expressing a desire to build a relationship between Pictou Landing First Nation and Cumberland County. Athol Forestry is a co-operative of independent woodlot owners in Northwestern Nova Scotia.

“We’ve been looking for advice on how to start that process, we want to start the dialogue on the reconciliation process,” he told Cole.

We need much more of this. Urgently. 

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