We are getting perilously close, warn First Nations
By Linda Pentz Gunter
“I’m choked up. My heart is pounding right now,” said Chief April Adams-Phillips of the Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne through tears. “We give back thanks to our Mother Earth every day,” she said. But because of our disrespect and our destructive ways, she warned, Mother Earth is “going to get rid of us soon. She’s going to shake us.”
We are heading deeper into the “too late time” when it comes to climate change. “And that too late time is not far away,” said Chief Clinton Phillips of the Mohawk Nation. “Science is saying that. Animals are saying that. Animals who are living where they should not be living are saying that.”
Are we listening yet? “People are not listening,” Chief Clinton Phillips says. Global warming is upon us and yet we persist with nuclear power whose wastes poison the water, air, land, people and animals. The original guardians of those precious elements of our existence — indigenous peoples — are trying once again to be heard.
The chiefs and other indigenous and non-indigenous activists came together at the UN in New York on April 23 to hold a special event — “Radioactive Waste and Canada’s First Nations”. It took place on the same day as a press conference in Ottawa, Canada’s capital. There, the Anishinabek Nation, Ottawa Riverkeeper, the Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area, and Ralliement Contre la Pollution Radioactive, called on the International Atomic Energy Agency “to investigate why radioactive waste abandonment plans in Canada are proceeding despite a policy vacuum at the federal level, and with scant attention to international obligations as laid out in the UN Joint Convention on radioactive waste.”
At the UN the tone was somber. Despite Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau’s much publicized affirmation of the importance of Canada’s indigenous peoples and the necessity for “reconciliation,” First Nations feel left out, unheard and abused by Canada’s radioactive waste policy. Trudeau and his government are among those “not listening,” and they have been unresponsive to requests for hearings on radioactive waste policy with First Nations and other Canadians. You can watch their presentations here.
That policy currently includes a plan to site a five-to-seven-story high radioactive waste megadump on an Ontario hillside near marshes and swamps and above Perch Lake that empties into the Ottawa River less than one kilometer away. The river serves as the source of drinking water for millions of citizens and as the boundary between the provinces of Ontario and Québec.
The dump site is not far from the Chalk River Laboratories where the world’s first nuclear reactor meltdown took place in 1952. The debris from that accident, and a second one in 1958, was buried and remains on site. Chalk River produced plutonium for nuclear weapons during the Cold War.
The dump would store “low-level” radioactive waste, a misleading term as the wastes would include radioactive uranium, plutonium, cesium, strontium, iodine, tritium and other isotopes.
“It is lunacy putting a six-story mound of nuclear waste beside the Ottawa River near Chalk River,” said Chief Patrick Madahbee of the Anishinabek Nation at the UN event which was webcast live.
A recent one-hour program in French on the Chalk River megadump produced by Découverte, a French-language science-based program from Québec, recently aired and can be viewed in the video below.
The Canadian government calls this radioactive waste scheme “disposal,” a term long-time activist and mathematics and physics professor, Dr. Gordon Edwards, takes issue with. Speaking at the UN event, Edwards said: “Disposal is not even a scientific term. They have no intention of looking after it after a certain point. That’s abandonment not disposal.”
Edwards called on the Canadian government to “listen to indigenous people who know the land far better than us” and recommended “rolling stewardship.”
A second waste “disposal” plan, the Deep Underground Dump proposed by Ontario Power Generation at Kincardine Ontario on the shores of Lake Huron, is also strongly opposed by First Nations.
“Putting this stuff underground is insanity and total stupidity,” commented Chief Madahbee at the UN meeting. He flagged the dangers of transportation as well. “Why would anyone take the risk of moving this stuff around?,” he asked. “All you need is a serious accident that could devastate millions of people. There are other answers. We have the green energy sector. Nuclear power is no longer necessary.”
And what nuclear power “is really producing is toxic radioactive waste that will last for eternity,” Edwards said.” A lot of attention is paid to producing electricity. Very little attention is paid to people, the environment and the land. Radioactivity is a form of nuclear energy that cannot be shut off.”
But while the topic of the day was clearly radioactive waste, the context was the big picture: global climate change. To persist with nuclear power and its toxic, unsolved legacy of radioactive waste, is just another lunacy when time to address global warming is so short. The UN speakers were united in their horror at the irresponsible assault on Mother Earth.
“There are world powers who say global warming is a myth. People who think that are fools,” said Chief Clinton Phillips.
Chief Troy Thompson of the Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne concurred. “More than ever we need to come together and protect Mother Earth,” he said. “We need to make Canada more responsible and more respectful towards Mother Earth.”
Candace Neveau, a First Nations youth and mother representing the Bawating Water Protectors, called upon “all the warriors. The time is now to rise.” We must urgently recognize how we are “disrespecting Mother Earth and right those wrongs,” she said.
Otherwise, asked Chief April Phillips, “what’s going to happen? Imagine in 70 years what’s going to happen to your family and the next generation? What are they going to do?”
For more information, visit the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility website.