As part of its overall strategy to obtain advice and insight about progress under the Canada-United States Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, the International Joint Commission (IJC) arranged a series of sessions with representatives of various societal sectors in the Great Lakes basin. The information received will be used to help the IJC prepare its Ninth Biennial Report on Great Lakes Water Quality, scheduled for release in 1998. Presented here is a summary of the consultation held with the Walpole Island First Nation on June 13, 1997. The session began with a native North American prayer. A slide presentation, "Dedicated to Protecting Mother Earth and Defending the Future," provided context for the dialogue.
|Daniel R. Miskokomon||Chief, Walpole Island First Nation|
|Willard Shipman||Walpole Island First Nation|
|Dean Jacobs||Director, Heritage Centre, Walpole Island First Nation|
|Leonard Legault||Chairman, Canadian Section, International Joint Commission|
|Frank Murphy||Commissioner, International Joint Commission|
|Gerard de Zeeuw||University of Lincoln, United Kingdom|
|Martha Vahl||University of Lincoln, United Kingdom|
|Robin Huff||Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan|
|Garwood Tripp||Communication Advisor, International Joint Commission|
|Jennifer Day||Public Information Officer, International Joint Commission|
|Geoffrey Thornburn||Economics Advisor, International Joint Commission|
|Marty Bratzel||Physical Scientist, International Joint Commission|
First Nations representatives identified four issues:
The last is of greatest concern because of impact on downstream residents, primarily on Walpole Island, in terms of human health, the economy, and traditional lifestyle.
"We know there has been another spill when we hear the water trucks come rumbling in."
Many area residents consider water from the St. Clair River unsuitable for human consumption (even with treatment), and that contaminant bioaccumulation affects the use of fish and wildlife, both as a food source and for recreation and tourism based on hunting and fishing. Forced reliance on non-traditional foods can lead to additional human health problems and a shift away from traditional lifestyles. In addition, habitat are disrupted because of dredging and confined disposal of contaminated sediment.
THE RESPONSE BY AREA BUSINESSES AND RESIDENTS
A number of chemical industries, recognizing the impact on the environment and downstream residents, have met with affected residents to establish honest dialogue and develop productive and mutually supported solutions. In other cases, greater bluntness has been deemed necessary by downstream residents to get issues clearly and directly placed onto the table, again leading to constructive dialogue and effective solutions. The area environment has improved considerably over the past quarter century.
The greatest concern of many Walpole Island and other downstream residents is, however, ICI, which wants to release several billion litres of treated water. Ontario government approval has been obtained. Residents believe that this sets a dangerous precedent. In challenging the decision, they believe that scientific and technical information has been inappropriately manipulated, the concerns of those impacted have not been communicated or have been ignored, and those making the decisions are remote from, and their livelihood unaffected by the issue.
Further, the solution is not to sidestep the problem, for example, a tie-in to another water source, such as Lake Huron. The environment is not cleaned up and the resources not restored or protected.
ADVICE AND ACTION
The Walpole Island First Nation advocates an environmental impact assessment for their community that encompasses both human health and the environment. With valid scientific and technical information thus to hand, a solid case could be made to dischargers, regulatory authorities, and the courts about the appropriate action -- zero discharge -- necessary to restore and protect human health and the environment. Residents believe that viable alternatives to discharge exist and should be explored.
The Walpole Island First Nation also advocates networking among affected municipalities and local communities, to create awareness and grassroots support that would help cut through bureaucracy and red tape, and promote political action. In concert with local action, the issue has to be elevated to the national and international stage. This will contribute to development of a long-term strategy to protect future generations as well as to maintain support as politicians and leadership change.
The challenge can seem quite daunting, but people like Elijah Harper* are an inspiration and a model, that one voice -- a native voice -- can have an impact.
The toxic contaminant issue is out on the table; most industries are now aware of the detrimental impacts to downstream residents, the environment, the economy, and traditional lifestyles. A number of win-win initiatives have been undertaken to:
A number of successes have been achieved and recognition and awards received. Through such measures business and downstream residents can co-exist in harmony to their mutual benefit.
ADVICE TO THE COMMISSION
The advice summarized above will be used in development of the IJC's Ninth Biennial Report. The IJC is appreciative of the time and thought of those who contributed.
*Note: Elijah Harper is a native North American. As a member of the Manitoba legislature, his single voice speaking out in the legislature halted the proposed Meech Lake Canadian constitutional accord.