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Algonquin First Nations oppose giant radioactive waste mound beside the Ottawa River on their unceded territory

OTTAWA—Today Chiefs of two Algonquin First Nations and the Grand Chiefs of the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council (AANTC) and the Algonquin Nation Secretariat (ANS) – representing 10 of the 11 Algonquin First Nations – called on the federal government to abandon the current plan for a massive, aboveground radioactive waste dump on unceded Algonquin territory near the Ottawa River or Kichi Sibi. The chiefs were joined by Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada and MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands, who strongly urged the government to respect Indigenous Rights in its dealings with Algonquin First Nations. 

The Chiefs of Kebaowek and Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nations made public their Indigenous-led assessment of the radioactive waste proposal and the project’s impact on their culture, land, water and wildlife.

“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.”

Algonquin Nations will present their conclusions about the Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF) to a hearing of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) on August 10. Chief Haymond and Chief Dylan Whiteduck of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation say the CNSC has failed to fulfill the duty to consult. Consultation occurred too late in the process, and CNSC’s staff treated the NSDF as a foregone conclusion.

Both Chiefs point to Article 29(2) of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to which Canada is a signatory, and which says there must be free, prior and informed consent by First Nations to storage or disposal of radioactive waste on their lands or territories.

“We have found very severe potential impacts to our Indigenous rights and interests from the radioactive waste mound,” said Chief Whiteduck. “To have any meaning, the consultation has to start back from the very beginning of project planning. Meaningful consultation will have to allow Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg free, prior, and informed consent.”

He added that the First Nations are very concerned about the location of the proposed facility, and no justification was offered for putting a radioactive waste facility so close to the Kichi Sibi. “We have received no satisfactory explanation for why other sites well away from the river were not considered.” 

According to Grand Chief Savanna McGregor of the AANTC, representing seven Algonquin First Nations, “The radioactive waste dump plan follows a long history of assimilation and oppression since European arrival. We have faced intergenerational trauma, displacement from our unceded territory, and historical exclusion from decision-making at the Chalk River Laboratories site.”

“As leaders and as people here today, it is our responsibility to preserve and protect Mother Earth for future generations. We cannot risk the destruction of land and water, which sustains life for all beings,” said Grand Chief Lisa Robinson of the ANS, who is also Chief of Wolf Lake First Nation.

ADDITIONAL QUOTES:  

“When it comes to respecting UNDRIP and its requirement for ’free, prior and informed consent,’ governments at all levels prefer to coerce and bribe Indigenous peoples. Indigenous concerns are only honoured when they are consistent with the government’s plans. On behalf of the Green Party of Canada, we call on the federal government to respect the calls from the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council and the Algonquin Nation Secretariat to reject a toxic radioactive waste site on the Ottawa River.” —Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada and MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands

“The Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility does not presume to speak on behalf of Indigenous peoples, but as Canadian citizens we wish to state clearly and unequivocally that if CNSC approves the NSDF despite the lack of free, prior and informed consent from the Kebaowek and Kitigan Zibi First Nations, we will consider this act as one that dishonours Canada and all Canadians.” —Dr. Gordon Edwards, President, Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility 

“The NSDF would fail to meet the most basic requirement for a radioactive waste facility — to contain and isolate waste. We greatly appreciate the stand taken by Kebaowek and Kitigan Zibi First Nations to protect their land and water for the good of all life in the Ottawa River watershed.” —Dr. Ole Hendrickson, President, Ottawa River Institute, and Researcher, Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area 

“We are asking all allies to show their support for free, prior and informed consent by the Algonquin Peoples in the coming weeks. This is just the latest example of a history of colonialism and lack of consent for development on Indigenous lands.” —Vi Bui, Regional Organizer, Council of Canadians

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Media contacts:

Justin Roy, Councillor
Jroy@kebaowek.ca
(819) 627-3309
Kebaowek First Nation

Eva Schacherl
evaschacherl@gmail.com
Cell: 613-316-9450
Council of Canadians – Ottawa Chapter


Background:

The final written submissions from Kebaowek First Nation and Kitigan Zibi outline serious concerns about the effects the radioactive waste dump will have on Kichi Sibi (the Ottawa River), future generations and Indigenous rights.

Meaningful consultation with the Algonquin First Nations has been lacking since the environmental assessment for the project was first announced in 2016.  

The NSDF would leak radioactive and hazardous materials into a nearby wetland and the Ottawa River during operation and after closure. It is expected to eventually disintegrate through a process of “normal evolution.” It could also contaminate the river through the effects of earthquakes, wildfires, flooding and extreme weather events. Not only is the Kichi Sibi sacred to the Algonquin peoples, the Chalk River site is also near Algonquin sacred sites at Oiseau Rock and Pointe au Baptême.

In 2017 the Assembly of First Nations passed a resolution stating that the CNSC and Canadian government had failed their constitutional duty to consult and accommodate First Nations with respect to the NSDF. The Anishinabek Nation and Iroquois Caucus made a Radioactive Waste Joint Declaration stating that “we need to protect the lands, waters and all living things for future generations” and calling for no abandonment of radioactive wastes, keeping them away from major water bodies, and no imports or exports of radioactive waste.

In addition to the Algonquin First Nations’ opposition to the project, more than 140 Quebec and Ontario municipalities, including Gatineau and Montreal, and other civil society voices oppose the NSDF plan, while the City of Ottawa passed a resolution of concern in 2021.

NOTE: Kebaowek and Kitigan Zibi’s Indigenous NSDF Assessment and final submission can be found here: http://www.kebaowek.ca/NSDF.html