A Saulteaux state of emergency: Canada’s deadliest form of pollution

Written by Carma Wadley, CNN As Great Lakes countries gear up for the G7 summit next week in Quebec, a key dispute has come to the forefront: the treaty to protect the Great Lakes…

A Saulteaux state of emergency: Canada's deadliest form of pollution

Written by Carma Wadley, CNN

As Great Lakes countries gear up for the G7 summit next week in Quebec, a key dispute has come to the forefront: the treaty to protect the Great Lakes and their watersheds.

Canada, which has agreed to the Paris Agreement to curb carbon emissions, has also been pushing to renegotiate the United States’ signed deal to protect the U.S. counterpart’s heavy industrial mining in the region.

Yet, its mining industry is finding itself in the crosshairs of one Canadian indigenous group — the Saulteaux — that has declared a state of emergency against a “deadly form of pollution.”

Water crisis

Grassy Narrows First Nation filed a lawsuit against the federal government in May in an attempt to protect its way of life by limiting waste material released into the Great Lakes.

The court case has been put on hold after a decision to hand back to the federal government ownership of 26 leases that span some 300,000 acres of the northern Ontario land was made. Canada also announced it was rejecting a recommendation by First Nations to close or limit open-pit mine operations in the area.

Its decision sparked outrage among many indigenous communities in Canada, including the First Nations in the region of Nipigon, a community in northwestern Ontario, where the pollution problems are most severe.

Grassy Narrows community members from across Canada held protests in their region, including in Toronto, Ottawa and Cleveland.

Boiling point

Grassy Narrows First Nation was the first to call for a protection area in 2017, and the case was upheld by the Superior Court of Justice in July 2017. Yet in June 2018, Canada agreed to a settlement in which the federal government and Great Lakes basin organizations would negotiate to protect more of the Northwestern Lake Country lands.

The Canada Forest Products Association (CFPA) did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

“It just seems unfair that a government would be coming in and saying we don’t want your land because you don’t like our treaty settlement agreement that we reached in the 1950s,” Mavis Fyfe, a member of Grassy Narrows First Nation, said in an interview.

Grassy Narrows First Nation

Fyfe pointed out that Canada had apologized to aboriginals for the violation of treaty rights and a treaty over a century ago. She said the treaty agreement between the Great Lakes basin governments and indigenous communities wasn’t the only breach of trust in the region.

Fyfe pointed to continued mining at Fort Hills oil sands project, further northwest from the First Nations community. The company has recently faced a series of lawsuits.

“Fort Hills mine is in the 19th expansion since opening in 2011, and still going,” she said.

Environmentalists are worried that oil sands mines could erode the global clean water supply as it produces large amounts of toxic waste water.

Grassy Narrows residents are concerned that any effects of toxic mining waste could affect the community’s water supply.

“We rely on that and fear that the water could go very bad and take things that are there with it,” she said.

Two examples of allegations made by the Saulteaux state that mining impacts on native people are water quality, which is linked to asthma, and lead, which can affect cognitive and behavioral disorders in children.

“We are very concerned that the use of this land to mine could increase the likelihood of deterioration in our quality of life,” Vincent Aucoin, spokesman for Grassy Narrows First Nation, said in an email.

Fyfe said community members do not want the federal government to shut down any mineral activities. She wants them to find a way to manage the impact while focusing on health and well-being rather than a permanent halt.

“We just want some good environment protection at the end of the day.”

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