Land ownership program gives hope to local African Nova Scotian communities

By Lois Ann Dort    

Last week the province of Nova Scotia announced $2.7 million in funding directed toward the clarification of land ownership in the following communities: East Preston, North Preston, Cherry Brook, Lincolnville and Sunnyville. The monies will be used over the next two years to pay for legal costs and other costs incurred in the clarification of land ownership.

African Nova Scotian Affairs Minister Tony Ince made the announcement on Wednesday, September 27 in Cherry Brook. Members of African Nova Scotian communities in Guysborough County attended the announcement including Municipality of the District of Guysborough Deputy Warden Sheila Pelly; Mary Desmond, Upper Big Tracadie resident and Royal Canadian Legion Branch #81 Chaplain; and James Desmond, long-time Lincolnville activist and local historian.

Pelly, also a resident of Lincolnville, told The Journal on Monday that she hoped the announcement would help bring people back to African Nova Scotian communities that had been hollowed out by migration to bigger centres. “I’ve got people calling me from Ontario that want to come back to their old homesteads. I am glad to hear this...What I’d like to see is that some of the people that are away-- let them get title to the land-- and keep the communities populated.”

Pelly said population in her district has steadily declined with current numbers approximately standing at: Upper Big Tracadie 25, Lincolnville 50 and Sunnyville 200. She wants to see these communities continue and she said, “if we don’t have people coming back it won’t happen.”

As for the land clarification process, Pelly said she has little information. No questions were taken by the Minister from the public after the announcement last week. Community consultation meetings will take place but a schedule has not been made available to the public to date.

Pelly said of the process, “I’m looking for big things to happen.”

Mary Desmond, an active community volunteer, said that she was cautiously optimistic about the announcement and the steps that would follow.

James Desmond is glad to see some movement take place but he looks to history and the reception African Nova Scotians have been given when airing grievances in the past to inform his opinion on the announcement last week. He starts with the original land grants given to Black Loyalists in 1787 and moves forward to the 1960s when some land title issues were addressed in the Lincolnville area and similarly in Sunnyville during the 1980s.

“It is my opinion that before we move on to resolving these issues the government has to recognize our land claims and the injustice that has been done to the people concerning land,” James Desmond said. “I have clear title to three acres of land inside the reserve but if they came to me and said, ‘How much land are you claiming?’ I’m claiming 150 acres. Is the crown prepared at this point to give me my 150 acres? Are they prepared to go down that route?”

The issue of land ownership and land claims in African Nova Scotia communities is a longstanding problem. The announcement last week, to direct funding towards addressing land clarification issues in some but not all such communities, is welcomed. Those affected will be carefully watching the process as it moves forward.