Indigenous leaders decry lack of consent for nuclear waste on their homelands

Indigenous Issues

OTTAWA —  Today, leaders of Indigenous communities in New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario express their strong concern about the lack of Indigenous consent for nuclear waste, uranium mining and refining on their homelands.

Article 29(2) of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) states: “States shall take effective measures to ensure that no storage or disposal of hazardous materials shall take place in the lands or territories of Indigenous peoples without their free, prior and informed consent.”

The Government of Canada is promoting an expansion of nuclear energy across the country without the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous Nations affected. Like the existing reactors, new nuclear reactors will leave a toxic legacy for all living things for thousands of years.

Already, dozens of communities have radioactively contaminated sites on their homelands, and they and others must carefully consider the impacts of proposed permanent repositories for nuclear waste on the next seven generations.

Hugh Akagi is Chief of the Peskotomuhkati Nation in Canada, whose homeland is the unwilling host of the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station on the world-renowned Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick. The reactor was built and later refurbished without the Nation’s consent. Now the federal and New Brunswick governments are spending public funds to develop two new nuclear reactors on the Point Lepreau site.

Chief Akagi has written several times to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada, to express concerns about the proposed projects and ask questions about the high-level used nuclear fuel waste in temporary storage at the Point Lepreau site.

“The nuclear fuel chain – mining uranium, chemically processing the ore, fabricating the fuel, fissioning uranium in a reactor creating toxic radioactive waste remaining hazardous for tens of thousands of years – leaves a legacy of injustices disproportionately felt by Indigenous peoples and all our relations,” says Chief Akagi.

In 2021, the Wolastoq Grand Council in New Brunswick published a resolution on nuclear energy and nuclear waste on traditional Wolastoq homeland.

Grand Council Chief Ron Tremblay, says: “Wolastoqewi-Elders define Nuclear in their language as ‘Askomiw Sanaqak,’ which translates as ‘Forever Dangerous.’ That’s why we called for First Nation alternative energy solutions, including renewables and energy efficiency, as well as no more public funding for nuclear and the phasing out of the Point Lepreau reactor.”

The Blind River uranium refinery owned and operated by Cameco is located on lands which since AD 800 have been the site of vibrant Indigenous occupation and life, including as the ancestral lands of the people of Mississauga First Nation (MFN), and MFN’s access to these lands and waters has been barred by virtue of Cameco’s nuclear operations at the site.

Mississauga First Nation has never consented to the lands being used for nuclear activities nor as disposal grounds for radioactive wastes and there continues to be no equitable redress for this loss of access to their ancestral lands located on the Mississauga Delta.

“The existence of nuclear operations on our ancestral lands has contributed to our loss of culture and spiritual traditions and has been detrimental to our health and well-being of our First Nation, said Mississauga First Nation Councillor Peyton Pitawanakwat. “Cameco has materially benefitted and continues to benefit, from the operations at Blind River, which remains the world’s largest uranium refinery. The proposal to now site radioactive wastes on our lands would perpetuate an existing environmental injustice and amount to environmental racism.”

The Kichi Sibi or Ottawa River, which forms the boundary between Ontario and Quebec, is another site of conflict. The Chiefs of Kebaowek and Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nations in Quebec last year made public their Indigenous-led assessment of a million-cubic-metre radioactive waste mound to be built at Chalk River Laboratories on the shores of the Kichi Sibi on unceded Algonquin territory. Their assessment covered the project’s impact on their culture, land, water and wildlife. An experimental nuclear reactor is also planned for Chalk River.

“The Kichi Sibi is sacred to our peoples and at the heart of our unceded homeland,” said Chief Lance Haymond, of Kebaowek First Nation. “The Algonquin peoples never consented to the Chalk River site being used for over 75 years for nuclear reactors and research, and now being the site for a permanent radioactive waste dump. Consultation was far too late and inadequate, and we reject the plan.”

In spite of the clear opposition to the project by ten Algonquin First Nations, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission approved the Near Surface Disposal Facility in January 2024. Two First Nations have launched a legal challenge to the decision, as have several citizen groups.

The federal government says that reconciliation is a priority. How UNDRIP will be respected by the Government of Canada – which signed it in 2016 and passed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act in 2021 – remains to be seen.

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