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Race and Waste in Nova Scotia

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Issue: 41 Section: Environment Geography: Atlantic Lincolnville, Nova Scotia Topics: racism

December 7, 2006

Race and Waste in Nova Scotia

Accusations of 'environmental racism' take centre stage during fight against new landfill development

by Hillary Bain Lindsay

The landfill has become a symbol of the slow decline of the community of Lincolnville. photo: Save Lincolnville Coalition
Brian Daye wants his children to be proud of where they come from. "Who wants to take their kids to show them where they're from and there's a great big pile of garbage sitting there?" he asks.

Daye is fighting the opening of a second-generation landfill located in Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, a few kilometres from Lincolnville, the black community in which Daye was born and raised. The site was already home to a first-generation landfill (meaning it lacked the special liners designed to prevent toxic runoff) for 30 years before it was chosen to house a second dump equipped to receive waste from 17 municipalities in Nova Scotia.

What differentiates this 'not in my backyard' battle from others is that the issue of race -- rather than waste -- has taken centre stage. The opening of the second landfill has become a flashpoint in a fight against racism and oppression that residents of Lincolnville say they've been battling since the community was settled on rocky soil in 1784: the 3,000-acre land grant owed to the black loyalists who founded Lincolnville was never honoured by the Crown.

"Today our land is being threatened again by the municipal government," says Lincolnville resident James Desmond. "We have put up with a first-generation dump site for 30 years. Now they want to put a second-generation one."

The second landfill has become a symbol of the slow decline of Lincolnville that residents say is a result of lack of economic opportunity, plunging property values, poor health and the stubborn indifference of the municipality. Daye is afraid that Lincolnville might disappear altogether, taking with it a history, culture and way of life. "It's almost like we're being exterminated," he says. "If we don't do something, there's going to be nothing left except garbage."

Lincolnville is easy to miss from the highway. "It is a very small community – well, now it is," says Daye. Thirty years ago, there were 300 people living in Lincolnville; today, according to residents, there are 58. "As of now it's mostly made up of seniors. There's also the young people that are still going to school, and that's about it. As soon as they graduate, most of the students are gone. There's no employment -- there's a mega-million dollar facility in our backyard [the landfill] and no offer of jobs."

Like others his age, Daye left Lincolnville after graduating from high school in 1995. Upon learning that he was going to be a father, however, something pulled him back home. "It's where I'm from. My family and my roots are here. All my ancestors are buried down the road," explains Daye. "Everything is here."

Teen resident Cassandra Desmond feels similarly. "Lincolnville is my home. It's been my home for 15 years and it's going to be my home for another 15 more -- hopefully more than that," she says. "I learned from Lincolnville everything that I have. Everything is Lincolnville."

When it comes to tangible infrastructure, 'everything' is very little. The community has a small hall, a basketball court, and that's about it. Residents argue that they've gained no economic benefits from a landfill that brings the municipality millions. "All we see is the decline of our community. Look at the white communities around here, there's new houses built every day. It's been over 20 years since a new house was built in Lincolnville."

"You're taking away from our community. You're gaining profit by harming us, and we don't get no benefit from it." That, says Daye, is racism.

The health impacts of the first dump are unknown, though residents believe rates of cancer in the community are far above acceptable levels. According to Daye, there are two or three people in every family who have cancer or have died of the disease within the past 15 years. While he was growing up, all the industrial waste from the region ended up in the dump a few kilometres from his home. "Who knows what was dumped there?" he asks.

The brochure created for the "Save Lincolnville" campaign (which now involves groups such as the Nova Scotia Public Interest Research Group, Bound to Be Free and the Dalhousie Black Law Students Association, as well as individuals who have lived, or currently live, in and around Lincolnville) accuses the municipality of environmental racism, defined as: "The intentional situating of hazardous waste sites, landfills, incinerators and polluting industries in and around communities inhabited mainly by people of black descent and First Nations people, as well as the working poor."

Bringing race into the equation is "beyond cynical," according to Guysborough Warden Lloyd Hines. But, those campaigning against the dump point to the fact that before two dumps were located in Lincolnville, one was located in Sunnyville --another black community in Guysborough County. Organizations such as the Indigenous Environmental Network and the Environmental Justice & Health Union point to mounting evidence that communities of colour in North America are disproportionately affected by environmentally hazardous facilities in their communities.

This comes as no surprise to Dave Curry, a law student at Dalhousie University in Halifax, who is doing pro bono work for the Lincolnville campaign. Curry grew up in an African Nova Scotian community in the Annapolis Valley and says he knows well "the racism and oppression that go along with that." The story that's playing out in Lincolnville is a familiar one, he says; "It could just as easily be happening in any other First Nation or African Nova Scotian community. It could be a landfill or it could be something else, problems with education, access to services…"

Many of the accusations of Lincolnville residents have been echoed by other black communities in Nova Scotia and are reminiscent of the complaints by former residents of Africville, a black community formerly located in Halifax, which was destroyed by the Halifax municipality in the 1960s.

"The dump is just the outlet for the anger and outrage that the community has felt towards the municipality of Guysborough throughout the years," says Daye. "Lack of development, lack of employment. Other communities had summer grants; none of the kids from our community had summer jobs so they could save for university. It's simple little things like that. And the little things add up to one big thing."

"We've lost too much," says Lincolnville resident Wendy Campbell. "We're not going to lose no more. We're here and we're here to stay."

Those protesting the landfill "have nothing better to do," says Lincolnville resident and municipal councillor Sheila Pelly. Pelly has found herself at the centre of the landfill battle as the Councillor for District Two, which includes the communities of Lincolnville, Sunnyville and Upper Big Tracadie. Along with the municipality, Pelly supports the opening of the second landfill and says the majority of Lincolnville residents do as well.

"It's hard to put into words the outrage I feel towards the councillor and the municipality," says Daye. He says he wasn't aware of the community consultation when it took place and that Pelly and other municipal councillors have refused to attend any of the community meetings held in Lincolnville since then. This appears to be frustrating those campaigning against the dump almost as much as the dump itself. Residents feel like no one cares enough about the future of their community even to listen to their concerns.

"We've had a number of meetings where the municipality from all levels was invited to come to listen to us and try to work with us on something," says Daye. "I'm sure something could have been worked out."

"It's hard to identify it as racism 'cause it is subtle," says Curry. However, he adds, the cumulative effects are not subtle. Poverty, lower levels of education and higher rates of addiction are just some of the problems facing communities of colour in Canada.

"It's been way too long to be dealing with this kind of stuff," says Curry, but he does see some hope in Lincolnville. " I do think it's great that the community is standing up against the environmental racism that is going on because a lot of time communities just don't have the power to stand up. Especially when it's a marginalized community," he says. "It's very encouraging to me to see a community standing up."

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