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London chapter holds public forum on protecting the Antler River

Photo (l-r): Tom Cull, Scott Howe, Steve Sauder, Chief Leslee Whiteye and Grandmother Irene Peters. Photo by Mark Drewe.

The Council of Canadians London chapter held a public forum titled “Water is a Human Right: Protecting the Antler River” on March 30.

Antler River refers to the Thames River, which is called Askunessippi or “the antlered river” by the Odawa and Ojibwa peoples. The rivers flows west through southwestern Ontario, including through London.

A blog by Michael Loebach reports on the presentations by Chief Leslee Whiteye from the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation; Grandmother Irene Peters from the Munsee Delaware First Nation; Steve Sauder with the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority; Tom Cull with the Thames River Rally; Scott Howe, a Grade 8 teacher with the Thames Valley District School Board; and Bryan Smith with OPAL (Oxford People Against the Landfill).

Loebach writes:

– “Chief Whiteye gave her thoughts on the impact of water as essential to all life. Her nation is downstream from London and wishes to act on water issues, but it seeks to develop relationships with the various entities in the stream, as no one can work on this alone, and actions of the different entities impact others in the stream. …Recently, her nation has joined with two other local ones to work together with the City of London to develop a policy with respect to sustainable water use. …Her nation respects the municipal structures but needs to be consulted, and the two entities need to problem solve together and to combat complacency and not leave the issue to industry.”

– “Grandmother Irene described herself as a Great Lakes Water Walker of the Turtle Clan. She said that she did not want to talk negatively, but that water had to be respected and looked after and not have garbage thrown in. The water is a living spirit; life must be respected; no one should take away life, least of all their own; they need to wait to be called. She had a stroke and felt it was her time, but then she saw that she was not being called. She looked to water to heal, going to a sweat lodge to throw water over hot rocks, to connect with her grandparents, to pray, to heal, and to look for help from the water spirit. She drank water to heal from her stroke and to rehabilitate.”

– “Steve spoke of the Thames River, which has various names, including Antler River. …Habitat is crucial; they saw that the Avon River banks were barren; there were no tree or plant buffers, but after restoring these they now see brook trout. Wetlands need to be restored, and phosphorous management needs to be more strongly emphasized. They are working on projects in Glen Cairn and Ingersoll. He then showed a video on Scott Dillingwater, which showed soft  shell turtle nests and the release of baby turtles into the river [in Belize].”

– “Tom spoke about Thames River Rally, a project he started in 2012 with his partner, Miriam, who decided to do a clean up of the river in the Carfrae Park area; in the first year of this project, on the first day they got only one further participant; but with ongoing efforts and a newspaper article, the project has gone on for 5 years, and hundreds have been involved in various cleanup projects in the city. They have learned the links between the environment and social issues, such as poverty, homelessness and addiction, and they see that a strong river leads to a strong community.”

– “Scott related his experiences with his grade 8 class, which developed Taps On/Taps Off research projects in art, science and math classes, and so became excited and motivated about water issues. At first, the purpose of Taps Off was to advocate shorter showers; then they got interested in broader issues, including the election, the Paris climate summit, and they also learned about First Nations problems with water, in which they had to turn their taps off because of pollution; they learned that the government said it would take ten years to fix, so they did research on the origins of the situation and why it might take that long.”

– “Bryan spoke about the proposal to put mid-level Toronto garbage into a depleted limestone quarry near Ingersoll. This is an upstream problem (for London) which affects water in the air, on the surface and in the ground. The goals of OPAL are: a) to stop the dump; b) to get the city of Toronto to change its garbage shipment plan. They have held ‘trashapalooza’ events, which are an exchange of used items to prevent them from being put into the garbage stream.”

To read Loebach’s blog, please go to the Council of Canadians London chapter website here.