Chiefs, Elders call for cancellation of Chalk River’s proposed nuclear landfill

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I attended the hearing held on August 10, at Ottawa’s Royal Canadian Geographical Society. This is when chiefs, elders, their First Nations legal counsels, environmental advisors, and councillors made their presentation to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). Hearing them speak, I experienced outrage over the process – and I join them in asking the CNSC to cancel the proposed NSDF project at this Chalk River site.

My outrage at the process was well-matched by the many Kebaowek, Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, and Mitchibikonik First Nations community members, plus representatives of many environmental groups. As the panelists addressed their varied perspectives, members of the audience cried out, “Shame” and “Stop the project”.

Why the outrage? Why ask for cancellation? Reasons are deeply felt and understood by the First Nations guardians of the land and their supporters, known as “allies”.

Unceded territory: asking permission

You’ve heard the words, at openings of meetings here in the Pontiac, Ottawa, Gatineau – where officials say, “We recognize that we are on the traditional unceded, unsurrendered territory of the Anishinaabe Algonquin People.” Sometimes a sacred smudging is included. Words and actions intended to demonstrate acknowledgement, support and respect.

It’s extremely political. However, it’s almost always delivered without the speakers’ or the listeners’ thoughtful consideration.

This land acknowledgement means that the Anishinaabe Algonquin never relinquished their rights to their land. It means that they are land guardians for all time. It explains that no treaty was imposed by European settlers. Therefore, First Nations did not surrender control to their home territories and it means that anyone wanting to do something on their land needs to request permission.

Isn’t that what you would demand if someone wanted to build something in your back yard?

This is the nub of the issue of the First Nations opposition to having their land clearcut and creating a nuclear waste landfill. They were never asked.

So much for glib land acknowledgement where speakers and audience are numb to the significance of their words. Wake up, Canada: the Truth and Reconciliation Committee encourages respect. The Chalk River proposal never offered such land acknowledgement. First Nations permission was never asked, so has obviously not been granted.

MRC Warden Jane Toller

Regarding this point, Warden Toller, who was at the Hearing, said, “I agree that The Commission and CNL have shown complete disrespect and ignorance for not providing proper consultation early. If they had done that and respected their ownership the project would have changed direction. As Chief Dylan Whiteduck [of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg) said, they ‘needed to ask permission’ to use this land.”

UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)

On June 21, 2021, Parliament passed Bill C-15 which confirmed the Government of Canada’s commitment to adopt this UN declaration. It was given Royal Assent to become enshrined in Canadian Law.

The declaration supports First Nations self determination, equality and prosperity for Indigenous Peoples (www.justice.gc.ca/eng/declaration).

Legal counsel Renée Pelletier raised the UNDRIP, noting that under the federal recognition of it in Canadian law, that there is a federal government requirement to consult with First Nations early in any process, as a recognition of and respect for Indigenous rights. This duty of consultation cannot be postponed to the last moment, as it was done in this CNSC process, where there’s a foregone conclusion that the project will be approved.

Hearings, Pelletier said, are not simply an opportunity for First Nations to “blow off steam.”

Warden Toller on UNDRIP

MRC Pontiac representative, Warden Toller noted, “Yes. The United Nations should be called upon to enforce the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Also, the federal government approved this two years ago, so should not be sitting on the sidelines. They should ‘walk the talk!’”

CNSC to cancel project? Hope exists

Will the CNSC cancel the project after considering these chiefs, elders and counsels’ cautions concerning their rights and their guardianship of this land?

Pelletier notes, “The hearings themselves are a foreign system imposed on First Nations and not in keeping with how they would like to be consulted. But the Commission may surprise us, and I want to keep an open mind.”

Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer and visual artist. Contact her at fletcher.katharine@gmail.com