Canada continues to feed environmental racism by allowing it to feed us

august 9 marks International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. As is tradition, governments, businesses and institutions across Canada are demonstrating their ability to use kind words and make tantalizing promises of a better tomorrow for indigenous peoples.

However, his talk of reconciliation contrasts sharply with the reality that government and industry continue to support one of the most notable cases of environmental injustice in Canada: the industrial takeover of indigenous land for oil production.

Canada must face the fact that until we have eliminated oil production in the tar sands, we will continue to fuel and finance the injustice we claim to care about.

Racialized communities and indigenous peoples are disproportionately subject to higher levels of environmental risk than other segments of society. They experience increased exposure to pollution, toxic chemicals and other environmental hazards and unequal access to human rights such as clean drinking water, known as environmental racism.

The tar sands in northern Alberta are the site of immense environmental racism, yet they have conveniently escaped being part of the national conversation on the subject.

Companies profiting from tar sands mining have tried to convince us that climate change is their only (small) harm. They continued claim that they are close to a technological solution to their massive toxic waste problem. In fact, they are actively and knowingly perpetuating environmental racism in predominantly indigenous frontline communities, while their own data shows Toxic chemicals leach from tailings ponds into the surrounding environment and groundwater. Since the ponds are not waterproof, the operators are increasing production, which will continue to fill the ponds.

a recent report by Environmental Defense and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Northern Alberta tells a very different story, showing the devastating impact of oil production on the land, water and air of First Nations and Métis communities.

Open pit and in-situ mining of oil sands by companies such as Suncor and Canadian Natural Resources Limited destroy large areas of boreal forest and wetlands through direct removal of forest and then creation of tailings “ponds”.

These “ponds” are, in fact, huge pits filled with fluids, toxic waste left over from oil production, and have been shown to leach and evaporate their dangerous contents into the surrounding environment. Oil sands tailings “ponds” now disrupt an area large enough to cover Paris three times, and they contain more than 1.4 billion liters of toxic fluids.

Some of the First Nations and Métis communities living downstream of the tailings, such as the residents of Fort McKay, now refuse to drink the water or eat fish and ducks, as they are likely to have come into contact with these fluids. toxic.

The theme of this year’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day is “The role of indigenous women in the preservation and transmission of traditional knowledge”. However, industrial activity prevents indigenous women from playing this role, write Aliénor Rougeot and Tori Cress.

Indigenous communities that have depended on the beautiful lakes, rivers, streams, forests and wetlands for their livelihoods since time immemorial have been displaced to small parcels of “Indian Reserved Land” from their territories in which Creation placed them.

This was how our lands were defined when the Indian Act first became law in Canada. It has since been amended, but that was how they defined “reserve land”.

In Section 91(24), the federal government (Canadian government) was given responsibility for all “Indians and land reserved for Indians”.

Downstream communities of the Alberta oil sands, such as the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and the Mikisew Cree First Nation, have caused serious health problemssuch as experiencing high levels of rare cancers, which local doctors attribute to oil sands operations. The cancer epidemic facing indigenous communities in Alberta’s oil sands region was brought to light by Dr. John O’Connor in 2006.

Connor is a Fort McMurray physician who first spoke about the potential impact of the tar sands mining industry on human health, particularly in Fort Chipewyan, a remote community downstream from strip mines and tailings ponds. Fort McMurray toxics.

The damage goes beyond the degradation of physical health. The rapid and relentless expansion of tailings “ponds” has resulted in the takeover of thousands of hectares of indigenous land, affecting their ability to access and pass on their traditional practices.

This year’s theme for Indigenous Peoples’ Day is “The role of indigenous women in the preservation and transmission of traditional knowledge”. However, in a country that often prides itself on its progress towards gender parity, industrial activity is a direct barrier to indigenous women playing that role.

Jean L’Hommecourt, a member of the Fort McKay First Nation, for example, testifies how tailings “ponds” restrict her ability to pass on lessons to her young people. Industry activity has fenced them off and driven away fur animals and insects needed for hunting and gathering. This brutal obstacle to access the traditional practices themselves creates immeasurable damageas these are often the last barrier against colonization.

Whatever words we say to celebrate indigenous history and tradition will mean nothing if Canada continues to protect and fund, often with our taxpayers’ money, an industry that knowingly perpetuates environmental racism.

Tori Cress is an Anishinaabe from G’Chimnissing, an island community off the coast of Waaseyaagami-wiikwed (Georgian Bay, Ontario) in the Williams Treaty Territory. She has brought her passion for communication work and grassroots community engagement to Keepers of the Water as our part-time communications manager. Her role includes developing a communications strategy, managing and maintaining the Keepers of the Water website, developing and publishing a quarterly newsletter, managing and expanding social media, and engaging with the community.

Aliénor Rougeot is a program manager at Environmental Defense Canada, where she advocates for a just transition for workers and communities and for a full cleanup of tar sands tailings “ponds.” She has been a human rights advocate from a very young age, with a focus on climate justice since high school. She alienor she co-founded the group Fridays for Future Toronto and has led numerous student climate mobilizations in that role.

Leave a Comment