Indigenous communities short-ended again

by nbitter on November 11, 2017 - 9:55pm

“ . . . Indigenous communities just don’t seem to be at the head of the line when it comes to dealing with environmental problems.” – Peter Tabuns (NDP Environment Critic)

Canadian environmental news has reared its head to focus on Ontario’s failure to protect indigenous communities from ‘outrageous’ air pollution. Andrew Russell, the author of a Global News article on the issue, examines the long-standing struggle of First Nations to obtain adequate environmental quality standards. This time, the commissioner Dianne Saxe brings attention to the industry-polluted region known as Chemical Valley near Sarnia. She blames the provincial government for neglecting to enforce and establish legislation that would address the millions of kilograms of air pollution released each year in the air shed of the Aamjiwnaang First Nations. This pollution has led to measurable health effects resulting in the use of sirens to warn residents of unsafe air conditions. Ontario has responded with renewed air standards and by funding its own study of the health impacts of Chemical Valley. Russell concludes the article by highlighting additional environmental concerns of First Nations communities including poor drinking water, lack of wildlife protection and toxic algae conditions of inland lakes. 

Canada’s history has been riddled with poor relations between the indigenous and government. When Canada was formed in 1867 it was decided the federal government would gain control of ‘Indian Lands’ with an agreement of non-interference. Only 9 years later came the most discriminatory and oppressive piece of legislation in Canada, the Indian Act of 1876. This act was designed to assimilate aboriginals into a more “civilized” western lifestyle. This is when residential school systems were established, and indigenous children were herded away from their families. Over 100 years later, Canada addressed the issues of the Indian Act by introducing Section 35 of the Repatriated Constitution (1982). This introduced the legal obligation of duty to consult, but not for consent. In 2007, Canada had the opportunity to further atone for their actions by adopting the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). While 144 countries agreed, Canada opted out. With this past comes deep-rooted mistrust that characterizes the behaviour conflict between the indigenous and Canadian government.

Today, for there to be true co-management of the land and its resources, indigenous communities must always be included with the decisions government makes. This participation must not be limited to simply consulting First Nations to review plans already made. We need to create a system that integrates indigenous knowledge from the beginning. Furthermore, we must acknowledge indigenous input for the true value it brings to decision-making instead of merely making use of data-type information that fits with western science. Only by achieving these goals will we begin to reconcile the relationship Canada has with its First Nations communities. The Aamijwnaang have a right to be at the table when discussing solutions for Chemical Valley. How long will it take Canada and its provinces to automatically consider the indigenous perspective without a reminder?

References 

Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. (2017, October 24). Good Choices, Bad Choices. 

Russell, A. (2017, October 24). Ontario enviro watchdog slams province for ‘outrageous’ pollution in Indigenous communities. Global News. Retrieved from https://globalnews.ca/news/3821561/environment-watchdog-pollution-first-...