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First Nations and their allies oppose closure of Canada’s Experimental Lakes Area

OTTAWA — The recent decision by the Government of Canada to terminate a world-class federal research program, the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA), diminishes the government’s capacity to deal with issues of concern to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit.

“By closing this unique, globally recognized research facility, the Harper government is once again sullying Canada’s international reputation,” says Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians. “The research made possible by the ELA is fundamentally important to realizing Canada’s international commitments to both the human right to clean water and the rights of Indigenous peoples, and to close it at this critical time for water is just one more black eye for Canada on the world stage.”

First Nation Chiefs in Ontario and Manitoba have called upon the government to reverse its decision to terminate the ELA program because of the impact the closure will have on the understanding of effects of pollution and other stressors on First Nations treaty rights.

“The impacts the omnibus budget bill and the cuts to the ELA program will have on our Great Lakes and First Nations communities will be felt for countless generations,” says Ron Plain, Environmental Policy Analyst for the Southern First Nations Secretariat. 

“The ELA is necessary to ensure that our traditional territories include clean lakes and protected fish habitat,” states Chief Garrison Settee, of the Pimicikamak Cree Nation. “Without the on-going scientific study of ELA, our treaty right to fish could be compromised.”

“Freshwater is becoming an endangered resource on this planet,” adds Berens River First Nation Chief George Kemp. “It is sad to see the ELA being shut at this critical juncture of history. Tragic!”

Indigenous people have a special relationship with fish and wildlife – a relationship based on subsistence needs and values extending back thousands of years. Contamination of freshwater fish with toxins, particularly mercury, has significant health implications for indigenous people.

“Research at ELA has demonstrated that reducing atmospheric mercury emissions from burning fossil fuels will rapidly lower mercury levels in fish,” says mercury expert Dr. Drew Bodaly, former ELA head scientist. “ELA research has also provided guidance on where to locate hydroelectric reservoirs to minimize mercury accumulation in fish.”

The ELA has been critical for developing mitigation strategies for reducing contamination of fishes with mercury and other toxins. Termination of this federal research program will seriously undermine the federal government’s ability to develop such mitigation strategies in the future.

“The decision to close the ELA has led to a national and growing movement, shocked at the short-sightedness of deciding to eliminate our scientific capacity,” says Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party. “I am honoured to join with First Nations in calling for a reconsideration.”