Monday, July 11, 2011

Noopemig Water- wet, wild and free (part two)

To add to the call for greater scrutiny at what is taking place in the James and Hudson’s Bay lowlands, the Matawa Chiefs Council, whose communities will be directly impacted by the activities in the Ring of Fire have also written a letter to Ministers of the Environment, Peter Kent (Canada) and John Wilkinson (Ontario) respectively, calling for a “Joint Review Panel Environmental Assessment (EA) for Mining and Enabling Infrastructure in the traditional territories of the First Nations within the Matawa First Nations.”

The Matawa First Nations Chiefs state that “the cumulative effects of these mining and infrastructure projects (road, rail, hydro, and telecommunications) on the traditional territories of our First Nations will profoundly affect our communities and the future of all of Northern Ontario…..the sensitive aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems of this area, with its high water table and  many rivers and streams will be significantly impacted by these developments; this is especially true for those remote First Nations closest to the Ring of Fire and infrastructure areas.”

The Matawa First Nations Chiefs state that companies have submitted Project Descriptions to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) and that, “Our First Nations were not consulted in these Project Descriptions and per Supreme Court of Canada Decisions (Mikisew, Haida, Taku River Tlingit, etc.) the Crown is to consult with First Nations.”

For a number of years now, Supreme Court of Canada jurisprudence says that if the Crown contemplates conduct that will impact Aboriginal and Treaty rights, (Section 35-Constitution Act-1982), it must consult and accommodate the rights-holders prior to the impacting of said rights.

In May 2008, the Ontario Court of Appeals, upon releasing the Ardoch Algonquin and the KI-6 to time served, ruled that there was a “duty to negotiate to reconcile aboriginal interests with competing interests.”

It was shortly after the Court of Appeals decision, two (2) pieces of legislation were introduced at Queen’s Park to deal with mining and related issues (amended Mining Act) and land use planning ( the Far North Act) respectively, to reflect the public outcry against the incarceration of First Nations as a result of an archaic Mining Act.

Premier Dalton McGuinty stated, “Our plan will ensure that mining potential across the province is developed in a sustainable way that benefits and respects communities. We will ensure that our mining industry remains strong – but we also need to modernize the way mining companies stake and explore their claims to be more respectful of private land owners and Aboriginal communities. The Ontario Government believes exploration and mine development should only take place following early consultation and accommodation of Aboriginal communities.”

Indigenous peoples have made declarations and have been holding “Mother Earth Water Walks” to call attention to the sacred gift of water, the source of our life, the source of all life.” since 2003 to put into action the Indigenous Declaration on Water made in the summer of 2001 which states:
"As Indigenous Peoples, we raise our voices in solidarity to speak for the protection of Water. The Creator placed us on this earth, each in our own sacred and traditional lands, to care for all of creation. We stand united to follow and implement our knowledge, laws and self-determination to preserve Water, to preserve life."  Indigenous Declaration on Water, July/August 2001, British Columbia, Canada.

On July 5, 2011, Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) held a referendum on a Water Declaration to “protect all waters that flow into and out of Big Trout Lake, and all lands whose waters flow into those lakes, rivers, and wetlands, to be completely protected through our continued care under KI’s authority, laws and protocols.” They voted overwhelming to protect their watershed.

It is estimated that one-fifth of the world’s freshwater is in Canada and roughly 3.9 % located in the north of Canada so it is under these challenging circumstances that watershed protection efforts are coming to the Far North.

The four (4) major rivers and the surrounding watersheds in the Far North  appear like arterial blood veins as they provide water and nutrients to an ecosystem that provides life to watersheds and lands, including throughout the Ring of Fire, along the way to Hudson’s and James Bay in Noopemig.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Noopemig Water – wet, wild, and free….

At least for the time being, water continues to serve its purpose to provide life-giving water to Mother Earth as it flows freely, creating paths to hydrate all forms of existence on this elaborately-created planet.

Rivers and lakes run throughout Noopemig, providing water and nutrients that enable life to flourish throughout Planet Earth. It is said that about 74-75 % of our planet is covered under water by rivers, lakes, oceans, and polar ice caps. It is also said that our bodies are comprised of about 70% water located mostly in our cells. 

According to the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN)  97.5% of the water covering the earth’s surface is seawater (salt) and 2.5% of the freshwater is located in glaciers, permafrost and groundwater which would be difficult and expensive to access.

The IEN website on the World Water Statistics says that “less than 1% of the world’s water is available for human consumption,” and that “over half of that 1% is polluted and unusable for human consumption!!” The website includes a quote attributed to Julie Stauffer, author of “The Water Crisis,” which says that, “Not only is the level of water in the global well getting low, the water is also polluted sometimes to the point it is no longer drinkable.”

Along with the water becoming undrinkable comes the impact on the traditional food supplies in the Far North through the fish and animals that use these same waters, which then provide the main food sources of peoples who have traditionally lived on and off the land. The communities in the Far North see these waters as culturally significant and as their lifeblood – providing clean drinking water for all life, habitat for fish and water life, food and travel ways, moisture for the air, etc. -  and deem them worthy of protection.

Wildlands League will be collaborating with communities and tribal councils in the Far North of Ontario, who live on or near four (4) major rivers over the next two (2) years to advance watershed planning.

The four major rivers, the Albany, Winisk, Attawapiskat and the Severn watersheds are four (4) of only 12 left in North America south of 55 degrees that remain undammed and unregulated (although there is a diversion on the Albany River near its headwaters upstream) thus making them ecologically significant. The Ekwan is another river community members have expressed concerns about too.

This project will support tribal councils and indigenous communities, who are often most impacted by water quality and water quantity changes, “to develop culturally-appropriate, community-based approaches to watershed stewardship,” including “advancing mutually-supported river-system goals.”

It will also increase the awareness of watershed protection and the need for proactive planning and the tools and options that are available for the protection of watersheds. As development like forestry and mining move northward, there is an increasing need to understand how ecosystems function and what the impact of development will be upon these ecosystems including their consequences to the Far North communities.

A majority of First Nation communities do not have the resources or the capacity to begin to deal with the changes that are coming into their traditional territories. Wildlands League is committing more than 13% of its budget this year to providing support and capacity to advance watershed protection for the maintenance of healthy ecosystems. This means 13% of its budget is going directly to First Nations. This is an important feat.

Although there are legal mechanisms in place that say that activities like mineral resource development will be done, “in a manner consistent with the recognition and affirmation of existing Aboriginal and treaty rights in Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, including the duty to consult and accommodate and to minimize the impact of these activities on public health and safety and the environment,”  increasingly, third party interests are being established in First Nation traditional territories without the knowledge of the communities or consideration of environmental protection.

Claim staking continues under the old Mining Act free-entry system as the new regulations under the newly-reformed Mining Act will not be available until April 2012. These claims will then be grand-fathered and will not be affected by any community-based land use planning by First Nations under the Far North Act.

Exploration continues in places like the Ring of Fire, which is considered by some to hold one of the world’s largest chromite deposits in the lowlands of Hudson’s Bay. It is expected that the activities in the Ring of Fire will have a direct impact on at least three (3) of the major rivers including the streams, creeks, rivers and tributaries in the Ogoki, Kapiskau and the Ekwan watershed catchment areas.

While a coalition of environmental organizations has called on the federal government to set up a joint-review panel to ensure that mining development is monitored closely and that these activities adhere to environmental standards, the silence has been deafening thus far….
The roar of the rushing rivers continue throughout Noopemig, seemingly oblivious to the increased risks and pressures, that development will place on fragile ecosystems and to the peoples who depend on these waterways to continue running freely.

Why has it become necessary for the environmental groups to reach out beyond the borders of Ontario to try to ensure mining development is monitored so that it adheres to environmental standards? What are the communities in the Ring of Fire doing and what does this mean for the watersheds located on the traditional lands in the Far North? More on this in my next entry next week.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Noopemig in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories

Northern Voices-Northern Waters

With temperatures in the mid-minus 30’s and with the water underneath a blanket of snow and ice, the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) provided a warm and welcoming reception as they hosted members of the Forum for Leadership on Water (FLOW) on water management issues. FLOW members, a group of Canadian independent water experts who encourage government action to protect and steward the most precious natural resource – water, had amongst its delegation: the Executive Directors of the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources (CIER) and Simon Fraser University’s Adaptation to Climate Change Team (ACT), Academia, ENGO’s, First Peoples and funding institutions involved in water protection and who are concerned with the changing environment.

Canada’s North with its abundant land and water resources are at risk as changing temperatures impact water quality and ecosystems that uphold the fragile balance from which all life exists and flourishes. Changing weather patterns throughout the world are evident as the drivers of climate change continue to stoke the fires of the economic engine often without proper mitigation measures on the horizon. Rivers, lakes and water systems are impacted affecting the lives of people, animals, fish, birds and plants alike that depend on these systems. People living in the north who depend on the land and water for drink, food, transportation, culture and recreation are noticing the rapid changes to which they have to make adaptations to their lifestyle.

The Government of the Northwest Territories, both present and former leaders continues to champion water protection and security by providing leadership for the development of the Northwest Territories (NWT) Water Stewardship Strategy- Northern Voices, Northern Waters. 

Deputy Premier, the Honorable J. Michael Miltenberger, who is also the Finance Minister and the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) in the GNWT, says that someone had to take on this challenge – as the global warming train has left the station without a driver. “The federal government has said that they will not take the lead (and) climate change is on the tracks and nobody seems to be driving the train!”

Premier Floyd Roland says that northerners have always talked about taking control of northern waters and lands. “The land and water are key issues Northerners hold dear to our heart….It might be Canada’s backyard but it is our front yard.”

In 2007, the NWT Legislative Assembly declared that, “All peoples have a fundamental human right to water that must be recognized nationally and internationally, including the development of appropriate institutional mechanisms to ensure that these rights are implemented.”

The NWT Water Stewardship Strategy, Northern Voices, Northern Waters states as its vision that “The waters of the Northwest Territories will remain clean, abundant and productive for all time.” While the strategy only addresses freshwater ecosystems, it also states that it is the collective desire of NWT residents “to safeguard our water resources for current and future generations.”

This strategic goal is not without its challenges as the NWT residents live downstream from Alberta and British Columbia (B.C.) who operate major hydroelectric, oil and gas development, forestry and mining industries.

B.C. is building a third dam on the Peace River, a controversial 6.6 billion dollar hydroelectric project known at Site C. The reservoir is expected to flood over 5,300 hectares of land in the Treaty 8 territory. The First Nations in the area say that “it will cause irrevocable damage to the fish, wildlife and agriculture.”

Northern Alberta has the oil or tar sands project on the Athabasca River, the world’s largest deposit of crude bitumen and also the largest of the 3 major oil sands deposits in Alberta along with the Cold Lake and Peace River deposits.

On a tour of the Tar Sands project a few years back, I was astounded at the sheer magnitude of the equipment used to extract the bitumen - shovels several stories high and several 5 million dollar trucks transporting the bitumen to an oil extraction site. You can only imagine the huge quantities of water used daily to extract the oil from the sand and the resulting highly toxic waste material in the tailing ponds. Then there are the impacts to the quality of surface and groundwater and especially the impacts to the Mackenzie River Basin’s (MRB) freshwater deltas – the Slave and the Athabasca-Peace rivers.

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)-Canada website, “the Mackenzie River Basin drains 20% of Canada’s land mass, gathering waters from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, the Yukon, and Northwest Territories. The river provides 11% of the freshwater that flows into the Arctic Ocean, playing a critical role in regulating ocean circulation and Arctic climate systems.”

The governments of Canada, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, the Yukon and NWT signed a Trans-boundary Waters Master Agreement in 1997 agreeing to 4 guiding principles for cooperative management as they exercise their legislative responsibilities in the Mackenzie River Basin. These principles include:

.           Equitable Utilization

.           Prior Consultation –“that provides for early and effective consultation, notification and sharing of information on developments and activities that might affect the ecological integrity of the aquatic ecosystem in another jurisdiction.”

.           Sustainable Development – “managing the use of water resources in a sustainable manner for present and future generations.”

.           Maintenance of Ecological Integrity – “managing the water resources in a manner consistent with the maintenance of the ecological integrity of the aquatic ecosystem.”
The Master Agreement produced a 13-member Board for the Mackenzie River Basin, which has no authority to regulate water resources either at the legal or policy level. The board’s role has been limited with very few resources and no real commitment from the signatories.

There is a lot of work ahead to ensure the implementation of the NWT strategy plus there are various on-going processes in the Mackenzie River Basin that will have an impact on how the NWT Water Stewardship strategy evolves.

Devolution is expected in the near future where the NWT will soon have the legal authority to deal with lands and waters which will “create a new sense of ownership for Northerners.” 

There are also lands claims with the Aboriginal governments in the Deh Cho (Big River) region. Deh Cho is the Aboriginal name for the Mackenzie River. An Aboriginal Steering Committee (ASC) played a key role in the development process and in the shaping of the final strategy.

Then there are the trans-boundary negotiations that need to occur with respect to upstream resource development activities in B.C. and Alberta. The NWT would like binding agreements with those provinces that will recognize the values and principles of the NWT strategy.

An action plan to implement the strategy with a corresponding budget will be required to ensure that “all competitive interests are given equal weight and fair consideration.”

The balancing of these complex issues and interests in the NWT through this proactive approach to natural resource development and protection is like a breath of fresh air…The NWT Water Stewardship Strategy indicates the caliber of leadership, both current and former, that is required to have a vision for the future that provides hope to the present and future generations that the life-giving waters of the Deh Cho will continue to flow.

Former Premier of GNWT, Stephen Kakfwi says that we have to change our ways of thinking on a global scale, “Surely we are coming to a time where we have to agree to protect water as we are the ones who have to drink it. It’s finite! We have to work together in a way that the world can sustain itself. Water has always been central, inseparable from the land, animals and humans. It is your soul!” Kakfwi continues, “The Dehcho is our life and we need to protect it. We are fighting for our lives and we need to let everybody know how important it is….”

The development of the NWT Water Stewardship Strategy should serve as a model of water-source protection on a national and international scale. Claiming ownership to water should not mean that we have a right to contaminate but to keep it as pure as possible even in its altered state. If we continue to go with the flow we will eventually end up on dry ground… or we can support and implement a strategy that will hold water.
We cannot continue to deliberately forget who, by command, brought the earth up from water and surrounded it with water so that all creation can take the water of life freely….
Let us hope that this wonderful opportunity in the Northwest Territories becomes the living legacy we can all aspire too.

Closer to home on the sacred living lands throughout Noopemig in the Far North, the voices of the land continue to echo as they wait patiently… waiting for the implementation of an agreement committed to last “as long as the rivers flow.”