Toronto Star

Environmen­tal racism is not new

- NADIA THUNDERWOM­AN GEORGE NADIA THUNDERWOM­AN GEORGE IS A PUBLIC EDUCATOR AND MEDIA PERSONALIT­Y OF MI’KMAW FIRST NATION AND CANADIAN DESCENT.

Environmen­tal racism may be a new term to many, but to those who are affected by it, it’s a tale as old as time. Since the invasion of settlers, the land now known as Canada has been built on the blood and bones of Indigenous people, along with many other marginaliz­ed and racialized communitie­s.

Don’t believe me? Go see for yourself. Canada is filled with examples of environmen­tal racism, which can be seen in areas like Wet’suwet’en territory, Grassy Narrows or Yarmouth. It can be found in “Chemical Valley” in Sarnia, in the backyard of the Aamjiwnaan­g First Nation. Near Toronto, you can find the Six Nations of the Grand River, where less than six per cent of the community have non-toxic water running to their homes.

These are all tangible examples of environmen­tal racism, which refers to the placement of toxic waste plants, chemical treatment plants and dumpsites — or the degradatio­n of land for hazardous systems like the Coastal GasLink project — near vulnerable communitie­s, making the land unliveable and undesirabl­e. Environmen­tal racism can also manifest in other ways, such as a lack of playground­s, trees, walking paths or hiking trails, or reduced access to health supports and clean water.

The fact that the government chooses areas in which Indigenous, systematic­ally marginaliz­ed and racialized people live is a tangible example of environmen­tal racism. These locations are not unfortunat­e mistakes. Rather, they are predetermi­ned and approved by the government, in collaborat­ion with hazardous production companies. The effects are real and often fatal for people in both remote and urban areas.

The evidence-based research submitted to the government shows the increasing­ly negative outcomes. When the environmen­t is desecrated in the name of progress and profit without using sustainabl­e methods, it has lasting negative effects on both people and ecosystems.

Physical health The contaminan­ts and toxins released by these hazardous systems cause negative health outcomes, compared to nonaffecte­d areas. Some of the inequities include higher rates of cancer, lung or respirator­y illness, and skin diseases, like in Attawapisk­at.

Environmen­tal health Continued poisoning of land, water, air and foods disrupts the ecosystem, affecting all living things in the area.

Socio-economic effects Toxic systems in racialized communitie­s make them undesirabl­e to live and work in, bringing in less funds and making it more difficult for those

who live there.

Mental health The aforementi­oned problems can lead to higher rates of suicide, addiction, fatalities and increased rates of mental illness.

Policy-makers and those profiting off these hazardous systems continuall­y sweep the ongoing atrocities under the “Canadian rug.” The idea of being taught by those they view as inferior is incomprehe­nsible to them. Canada turns to other countries for solutions, yet Indigenous people have been using effective, sustainabl­e and evidenceba­sed methods since time immemorial.

For the government to ignore the negative impacts its choices have on these communitie­s is blatant discrimina­tion. When policy-makers continue to act without input from the original peoples of this land, they are outright saying these people don’t matter.

In short, we not only need environmen­tal equity, but also environmen­tal justice. Everyone, regardless of race or socio-economic status, should have access to clean water and healthy living environmen­ts. Canada must upholds these rights, ensuring offenders are held accountabl­e.

I encourage people to have these uncomforta­ble conversati­ons and stand with Indigenous voices. Talk to your MPP or MP, join a committee, and have your say at public hearings. Sign petitions, donate to organizati­ons working with Indigenous communitie­s, and support Indigenous artists and educators.

 ?? ADRIAN WYLD THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO ?? Canada is filled with examples of environmen­tal racism, Nadia Thunderwom­an George writes. Consider Grassy Narrows, Ont., where generation­s suffered from mercury poisoning due to industrial waste.
ADRIAN WYLD THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO Canada is filled with examples of environmen­tal racism, Nadia Thunderwom­an George writes. Consider Grassy Narrows, Ont., where generation­s suffered from mercury poisoning due to industrial waste.

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