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Canada's Apartheid, by John Stackhouse
Stories
Introduction
  Nov. 3

Welcome to Harlem on the Prairies
  Nov. 3 (Saskatoon, SK)

Crystal's choice: The best of both worlds
  Nov. 5 (Mississauga, ON)

How the Mi'kmaq profit from fear
  Nov. 6 (Cape Breton, NS)

The healing power of hockey
  Nov. 7 (The Pas, MB)

Norma Rae of the Okanagan
  Nov. 8 (Westbank, BC)

Comic genius or 'niggers in red face'?
  Nov. 9 (Regina, SK)

Praying for a miracle
  Nov. 10 (Lac Ste. Anne, AB)

To have and to have not
  Nov. 12 (Moosonee, ON)

Trouble in paradise
  Nov. 19 (Tofino, BC)

A cut of the action
  Nov. 26 (Wabigoon, ON)

The young and the restless
  Dec. 3 (Ashern, MB)

The wireless warrior's digital dream
  Dec. 10 (Ottawa,ON)

'Everyone thought we were stupid'
  Dec. 14 (Salluit, QC)

First step: End the segregation
  Dec. 15 (Last in the series)

 

How the Mi'kmaq profit from fear

Story by John Stackhouse. Photos by Patti Gower
The Globe and Mail, November 6, 2001

Part 1 of 7: 'There was a lot of fear factor in Atlanta''


Cape Breton Head office in Georgia had been warned about Canada, not that the people there needed to be told. For half a century, the company had helped to build America's suburbs with gypsum from Cape Breton. Getting its way with the Nova Scotia government was seldom a problem.

But this time, as Georgia-Pacific prepared to open its third mine on the island, the Atlanta-based multinational with more annual revenue than all but two African countries was warned of two new realities up north: the Greens and the natives.

For Felmer Cummins, a southern gentleman who oversees the company's affairs in Eastern Canada, news that the Sierra Club of Canada was ready to do battle was heart-wrenching. He had gone toe to toe with the club's U.S. branch and didn't like it one bit. Showed no respect for a corporation. Played dirty.

But at least in Cape Breton, a region as economically stagnant as the Caribbean, where Georgia-Pacific also is used to getting its way, he knew that there were enough jobs and tax revenue at stake to win the day with government.


"There was a lot of fear factor in Atlanta,"
Felmer Cummins,
Georgia-Pacific

The Indians were another matter. Back in Atlanta, Cummins and his bosses had seen TV images of native blockades in Canada, and read about the growing feistiness when it came to land and resource disputes. They did not seem to be moved by jobs or money, and those were the only aces he had up his sleeve.

The situation was uncomfortably reminiscent of the 1950s, when Georgia-Pacific's assets in the Dominican Republic were nationalized. "There was a lot of fear factor in Atlanta," Cummins recalls. "We almost walked away because of fear. In the States, we're not used to groups claiming they had rights to your land. We were afraid they would try to claim our whole company."

Well trained in the fine art of multinational politics, he now laughs at that fear. The Mi'kmaq of Cape Breton turned out to be as savvy as any company or union he has come across in Canada; they had their own corporate office, lawyers and a killer instinct that impressed the Americans.

They agreed to the new mine in return for jobs, royalties, environmental safeguards and first dibs on all contracts related to the project. What's more, the Mi'kmaq offered to take care of the environmentalists - and did, by applying pressure to the Sierra Club to back off a planned confrontation with the company.

For Georgia-Pacific, which operated in Cape Breton for nearly 50 years without much concern for the Mi'kmaq, the negotiations were a quick lesson in the new sophistication and clout of Nova Scotia's Indians. The local bands are also in negotiations to develop joint ventures with some of Canada's biggest fish-processing, hotel, engineering and accounting firms.

"I would liken it to a very tough negotiation with the Teamsters," Cummins says. "You're dealing with very well-educated and informed people who probably know how far they could push you, but they don't want you to go out of business because your existence is good for them."

That the Mi'kmaq may have more in common with a U.S. multinational than with their traditional allies in the environmental movement speaks volumes about how much reserve culture has changed since the 1970s when their most famous member, Donald Marshall Jr., was wrongfully convicted of killing a black teenager.

According to a new generation of leaders, the world has changed too much for the Mi'kmaq to rely on government handouts or to resort to the old adversarial politics they see playing out in Burnt Church, N.B. They still face bigotry, but they feel they have to build bridges.

"The train left already," says Terrence Paul, chief of the Membertou First Nation, Cape Breton's most influential band. "The corporate world already controls our resources, without our say in anything that is going on."

THIS STORY AT A GLANCE (Parts 1 to 7):

Photo Essay
Mining in Membertou


1. 'There was a lot of fear factor in Atlanta'
A lesson in negotiating with the Indians

2. The new spirit: cementing deals
Mi'kmaq's band leader personifies the new image

3. 'Their attitude was perhaps what bugged me the most'
Membertou takes on the corporate world

Reader feedback
Check out what readers had to say about How the Mi'kmaq Profit from Fear
4. 'They don't take direction very well, unfortunately'
Racial comments at the Georgia-Pacific mine

5. The mine's next challenge
Cape Breton's Erin Brockovich brought in

6. A little 'shuttle diplomacy'
Christmas reaches a compromise between Georgia-Pacific and the Sierra Club

7. 'I know how they feel'
The sweet irony of Cape Breton's powerless, dispossessed white residents


 
 

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