By David McLaren, Chippewas of Nawash
Earlier this year, representatives of the Chippewas of Nawash were invited to speak at the first (and only) public meeting in Walkerton, Ontario for the Environmental Assessment (EA) of Walkerton’s Long Term Water Supply. The Walkerton tragedy of May 2002 shocked all of Canada. Fecal contamination in the drinking water of Walkerton, Ontario sickened 2,300 people and killed seven. Twelve hundred people remain under long-term medical treatment that may last the rest of their lives.
The Walkerton Class EA proposes four possible solutions to Walkerton’s water woes: 1) upgrade the existing well field, 2) dig a new well-field, 3) construct a 50 km pipeline from Southampton on Lake Huron, or 4) build a 60 km pipeline from Wiarton on Georgian Bay.
At the public meeting, the people of Walkerton seemed to reject the pipeline options in favor of, as one speaker said, “Taking responsibility for our own water, in our own backyard”. And, in a later referendum, over 80% of the residents clearly rejected the pipeline option. Nevertheless the mayors of several municipalities are fiercely lobbying Ontario and Canada for money to build a regional pipeline system that would cost close to a billion dollars (CND). In arriving at the four options, the Class EA weighted four main “environmental” considerations: economic environment (by 30%), technical environment (by 22%), social environment (by 28%), and the natural environment (by 20%). This weight given to “natural environment” is one of the difficulties the Chippewas of Nawash have with the Class EA. Another major problem we have is that we feel the Class EA did not look at available scientific literature to assess the impact on the natural environment of any of the options offered.
We also have problems with the Class EA process itself. For example, there is neither mention of Native Traditional Environmental Knowledge (TEK) in the Class EA nor any attempt on the part of the consulting engineers to discover what scientific literature might say about water pipelines. TEK (or if you prefer, indigenous science) is generally ignored by non-indigenous governments when they make planning decisions. This, despite Article 8(j) of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which insists governments and resource managers seek out TEK and incorporate indigenous knowledge in their environmental planning. There is a great deal of concurrence between TEK and leading-edge western science. For example, both agree that the best way to deal with compromised rivers is to stop the source of harm and let them heal themselves.
To make matters worse, at least one municipality in Nawash’s traditional territories is using, without permission, First Nation proprietary maps and information to help them make their case to government for funding a regional pipeline. This kind of misuse of First Nation’s information does not bode well for a recently proposed Water Source Protection Framework for Ontario in which First Nations’s TEK and environmental ethic will most likely be drowned out by the municipal presence on Source Protection Planning Committees.
By way of summary there are two points that need to be emphasized. First, there is enough unknown about the effects of the proposed pipelines on the environment, and enough scientific evidence from studies of other, similar, projects to ask for a bump-up to a full individual EA, which the Minister of Environment can order under the Ontario Environmental Assessment Act. Second, our experience demonstrates that First Nations need to be deeply involved in source protection planning, as a well-funded center for scientific research and TEK that would shed more light on proposals affecting watersheds in traditional territories – and not just as stakeholders on a committee.
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David McLaren works for the Chippewas of Nawash on environmental and communications issues. He has also worked for the Canadian Environmental Law Association and is currently on the board of the coalition for the Niagara Escarpment. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.