The Mill is a local story with national and international resonance. When environmental sustainability comes up against the economic benefit of resource extraction, who wins? Where does Pictou County, Nova Scotia’s priorities lie? Will it be with those indigenous to this area, the Pictou Landing First Nation, whose traditional land of Boat Harbour, was once taken over against its will and is now a toxic effluent site?
A spill of untreated effluent on their sacred burial ground in 2014, sparked a blockade closing the Pictou County pulp mill. To end this standoff, the Government agreed to the demand to close the toxic, Boat Harbour Effluent Treatment Facility, which has poisoned air, land and water for the last 50 years. This would bring an end to what former NS Environment Minister Iain Rankin, called, ‘Nova Scotia’s worst case of environmental racism.’
By January 2020, Northern Pulp – the local mill – is to stop using its waste treatment facility on this site. The mill’s solution to keep operating is to place a new effluent treatment facility and pipe directly into the Northumberland Strait. This poses a problem for those who frequent these waters.
A coalition of indigenous and non-indigenous fishers of the area now threatens the province’s forestry industry. They are resisting the mill’s plan to pipe treated effluent into their fishing grounds – creating the controversial ‘No Pipe,’ campaign. To which the the Mill and its supporters have responded: ‘No Pipe, No Mill.’ It’s a conundrum with consequences for the rural community and either industry.
The community remains tense as the Government of Nova Scotia presides over a Gordian knot of its own making.
The Mill follows both sides of the debate from December 2017, up to the opening of the 2019 lobster season. This observational film provides portraits of civilian characters deciding to challenge the status quo and stand up to what they perceive is a threat to their livelihoods and way of life. These homespun activists have a love of their land in common, and as Chief Andrea Paul says, “When people come together and support each other on issues, it’s a beautiful thing.” The film does it’s best to capture what’s inspiring this passion.
As opposition to the new pipe mounts, there is a growing sense the future of Pictou is at stake. The community remains tense as the Government of Nova Scotia presides over a Gordian knot of its own making. Will it fulfil its promise to close and clean up the notorious Boat Harbour site? Or, will the risk of thousands of rural jobs from either the fishing, or forestry industries, and current animosity in the region make it renege – extending the use of Boat Harbour’s facilities beyond the agreed to January 2020 closure.
Either way, The Mill captures this significant moment in time for the people of Pictou County and the important public dialogues taking place. Its story can be related to the world over, as indigenous claims involving environmental protection of natural resources are constantly at odds with capitalism’s consumer demands. Though the outcome here remains unknown, this film’s characters illustrate a change in awareness for the area. It is obvious there is certainly more to Pictou County than its infamous pulp mill – with stinging smells of sulphur still filling the air.