Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

I don’t normally reprint news releases. This time I will make an exception. At the end of the news release are two videos I recorded earlier this year that speak to this issue. In the first, Dr. Stéphane McLachlan, of the Environmental Conservation Lab at the University of Manitoba, talks about the research that is the subject of this news release. In the second, Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May explains why Canada needs an energy policy that is good for Canada’s economy and its environment.


Health Study Reveals Alarming Links Between Oil Sands Contaminants and Incidence of Illness

July 7, 2014, Edmonton, AB – Today the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) and the Mikisew Cree First Nation (MCFN), in collaboration with researchers from the University of Manitoba, released a report Environmental and Human Health Implications of Athabasca Oil Sands, and is the first report of its kind to draw an associations between oil sands produced environmental contaminants and declines in community health and well-being in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta.

This report has been peer reviewed by Health Canada and other health and environmental agencies. Integrating scientific research methods and local knowledge, the report is the result of three years of community-based participatory research that incorporates both the traditional knowledge of community members and scientific monitoring techniques.

MCFN Chief Steve Courtoreille says, “This report confirms what we have always suspected. about the association between environmental contaminants from oil sands production upstream and cancer and other serious illness in our community. The Joint Oil Sands Monitoring Programme has released data about the increases in these contaminants, but fails to address and monitor impacts to First Nations traditional foods. We are greatly alarmed and demand further research and studies are done to expand on the findings of this report.”

Findings include generally high concentrations of carcinogenic PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), and heavy metals arsenic, mercury, cadmium, and selenium in kidney and liver samples from moose, ducks, muskrats, and beavers harvested by community members. Bitumen extraction and upgrading is a major emitter of all of these contaminants.
Contaminants in wildlife, as well as limited access due to declining water levels, have nearly eliminated the consumption of some traditional foods; fish caught in Lake Athabasca and the Athabasca River are no longer trusted, while muskrat populations have declined precipitously.

ACFN Chief Allan Adam notes that “It’s frustrating to be constantly filling the gaps in research and studies that should have already been done. This demonstrates the lack of respect by industry and government to effecting address the First Nations concerns about impacts our Treaty rights and the increases in rare illnesses in our community. We need further independent studies done by internationally credible institutions like the World Health Organization.”

Community health and wellbeing have been in sharp decline. The study reveals a link between the Oil Sands and illness in Fort Chipewyan unlike the 2014 cancer report by Alberta Health Service which simply aggregated limited data.. Indeed, cancer occurrence in Fort Chipewyan is positively associated with the consumption of traditional wild foods, including locally caught fish.

“Communities are facing a double-bind”, says Stephane McLachlan, head researcher for the study. “On one hand, industry, notably the Oil Sands, causes a substantial decline in the health of the environment and ultimately of community members. On the other hand, the existing healthcare services are unable to address these declines in human health. These Indigenous communities are caught in the middle, and the impacts are clear and worrisome.”

Researchers and the community leaders urge further investigation of contaminant concentrations, in addition to the mitigation of existing occurrences. The report also emphasizes continued community-based monitoring and calls for improved risk communication from government and industry. A full copy of the report will be available online at www.onerivernews.ca



Winnipeg, Feb. 17, 2014: Suzanne Patles of the Mi'kmaq Warriors Society, speaking at at Thunderbird House. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Winnipeg, Feb. 17, 2014: Suzanne Patles of the Mi’kmaq Warriors Society, speaking at Thunderbird House. Photo: Paul S. Graham

It is time to “warrior up” according to Suzanne Patles of the Mi’kmaq Warriors Society. She spoke at Thunderbird House in Winnipeg on Feb. 17, 2014 as part of a national tour to raise awareness about the struggle at Elsipogtog First Nation against shale gas fracking and police repression, as well as their ongoing assertion of nationhood.

Their blockade in opposition to shale gas fracking at Elsipogtog First Nation (located in Kent County, New Brunswick) came to national attention on October 17, 2013 when the it was attacked by dozens of RCMP officers armed with assault rifles, pepper spray and dogs.

Forty members of the blockade were arrested, and a number of members of the Mi’kmaq Warriors Society face charges.

Seen at the opening of the video is the Keewatin Otchitchak Traditional Women’s Drum Group, which performed at various times during the evening.

The Winnipeg stop of this national speaking tour was organized by the Council of Canadians-Winnipeg Chapter, Boreal Forest Network, Thunderbird House, Winnipeg-Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Movement, Aboriginal Youth Opportunities and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).


Hiroshima Tar Sands

October 26, 2013: Diane Orihel, founder and director of the Coalition to Save ELA, speaks to a workshop in Winnipeg on water quality sponsored bu Idle No More Manitoba. Photo: Paul S. Graham

October 26, 2013: Diane Orihel, founder and director of the Coalition to Save ELA, speaks to a workshop in Winnipeg on water quality sponsored by Idle No More Manitoba. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Dr. Diane Orihel is the founder of the Coalition to Save ELA.The Coalition to Save ELA is a nonpartisan group of scientists and citizens concerned about the future of Canada’s Experimental Lakes Area.

Located in northwestern Ontario, the ELA consists of 58 small lakes and their watersheds that have been set aside for research. Since 1968, these lakes have provided scientists with a natural laboratory to study the physical, chemical, and biological processes in living lake ecosystems. Research conducted in the ELA has been critical to maintaining the quality of fresh water in Canada and many other countries.

Last year, the federal government announced plans to close the facility in 2013. Supporters of the ELA mounted a vigorous national and international campaign to maintain federal support. They have been partially successful, insofar as the Ontario government has committed to a short-term agreement to work with Winnipeg’s International Institute for Sustainable Development to spend up to $2 million a year. Under the agreement, IISD will oversee lake monitoring and the federal department of Fisheries and Oceans will continue its remediation work.

Celebrations would be premature. According to Orihel, “it is now illegal to conduct whole eco-system experiments at ELA.” And whole ecosystem experimentation is precisely what put ELA “on the world map,” according to Orihel. And hence, the campaign to save the ELA continues.

Orihel spoke recently at a workshop on water quality and oil fracking. This workshop was sponsored by Idle No More Manitoba as a part of its Red Feather Campaign in solidarity with the people of Elsipogtog, New Brunswick, who have been resisting plans to frack for oil in their territory.

Her topic was “The Five Main threats to Lake Winnipeg.” These threats, in the order in which she presented them, are nutrient pollution. toxic chemicals, climate change, invasive species and the “federal government under the leadership of Stephen Harper.”

I recorded the workshop on Oct. 26, 2013 at Neechi Commons in Winnipeg.


Dennis LeNeveu

Winnipeg, Oct. 26, 2013: Retired scientist Dennis Le Neveu spoke at a forum on the environmental hazards of fracking, sponsored by Idle No More Manitoba. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Fracking is a process used to extract oil and natural gas. It involves drilling horizontal wells into rock formations and injecting a mixture of fresh water, chemicals and sand under high pressure to fracture the rock and release the oil and gas.

Fracking has been linked with contaminated water aquifers,  air pollution and earthquakes.

In Manitoba, the gas extracted with the oil is hydrogen sulfide, a toxic gas that is lethal in small concentrations. The gas is burned off and returns to earth as sulphur dioxide, also known as acid rain.

Last year in Manitoba, 570 new horizontal wells were drilled, and more than 600 are projected for 2013.

This presentation was sponsored by Idle No More Manitoba as a part of its Red Feather Campaign in solidarity with the people of Elsipogtog, New Brunswick, who have been resisting plans to frack for oil in their territory.

The presenter, Dennis Le Neveu, is a retired scientist who has written on this topic for the Fall 2013 edition of Eco Journal, published by the Manitoba Eco-Network.

It was recorded on Oct. 26, 2013 at Neechi Commons in Winnipeg.


No Prairie PipelineTransCanada Pipelines’ proposed “Energy East” pipeline project, which is intended to transport Alberta tar sands crude to eastern Canada, is meeting growing opposition from First Nations, environmentalists and citizens who live along the planned route.

The Winnipeg chapter of the Council of Canadians, along with Idle No More and the Boreal Forest Network held a public forum on the issue on October 22, 2013. Speakers included Maryam Adrangi, the Council of Canadians’ Energy and Climate Campaigner, and Crystal Green, Michael Kannon and Nina Was’te of Idle No More. The forum was moderated by Susan McCrea of the Boreal Forest Network and held at the Mondragon Book Store and Coffee House.

Ken Harasym recorded and I edited this video report.


Winnipeg, April 21, 2013: Some of the participants in the 10th annual Seventh Generation Walk for Mother Earth, at the Oodena Circle at The Forks. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Winnipeg, April 21, 2013: Some of the participants in the 10th annual Seventh Generation Walk for Mother Earth, at the Oodena Circle at The Forks. Photo: Paul S. Graham


Despite the inclement weather, this year’s Seventh Generation Walk for Mother Earth was a lively celebration that began at Central Park and ended at Thunderbird House, with stops along the way at the Manitoba Hydro headquarters and the Oodena Circle at The Forks.

Held on Sunday, April 21, this year’s walk was in support of the Voices of Indigenous Women and in solidarity with the growing Idle No More Movement.

Speakers included Susanne McCrea of the Boreal Forest Network, Ko’ona Cochrane, Alberteen Spence, Judy da Silva, Kristen Andrews, Myrle Ballard and Diane Maytwayashing.

Here’s my video report.


April 4, 2013, Winnipeg: Opponents of the Reed Lake Mine in northern Manitoba confront HudBay Mineral's officials. Photo: Paul S. Graham

April 4, 2013, Winnipeg: Opponents of the Reed Lake Mine in northern Manitoba confront HudBay Mineral’s officials. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Opponents of Hudbay Mineral’s planned copper mine at Reed Lake, Manitoba held a peaceful demonstration at an information meeting held by the company at a Holiday Inn in Winnipeg. The demonstrators, many of whom are active in the Idle No More movement, confronted HudBay officials for about 15 minutes to voice their opposition and to demand a halt to the project.

Reed Lake is in the Grass River Provincial Park, about 110 kilometres east of Flin Flon. The mining project is a joint venture of HudBay Minerals and VMS Ventures, Inc.

The fact this mining operation is under construction in a provincial park has outraged environmentalists and First Nations communities alike.

April 4, 2013, Winnipeg: At a news conference announcing opposition to HudBay's Reed Lake Mine - (l-r) Grand Chief David Harper, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, Chief Arlen Dumas, Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and Eric Reder, Wilderness Committee. Photo: Paul S. Graham

April 4, 2013, Winnipeg: At a news conference announcing opposition to HudBay’s Reed Lake Mine – (l-r) Grand Chief David Harper, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, Chief Arlen Dumas, Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and Eric Reder, Wilderness Committee. Photo: Paul S. Graham

At a news conference held earlier that evening, representatives of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak and the Wilderness Committee pledged to oppose the mine because it is being built within the traditional territory of the MCCN without their permission.

Here are my video reports.


Jo Seenie Redsky: "we’re your last resort." Photo: Paul S. Graham

Jo Seenie Redsky: “We’re your last resort.” Photo: Paul S. Graham

If your only source of information is the mainstream news media you can be forgiven for wondering what the Idle No More movement is all about. Since it burst on the scene late last year, media attention has darted from demonstrations to blockades to the fasts of elders and chiefs — with an occasional sustained flurry of excitement when the PMO tried to smear Chief Theresa Spence.

Discussions of the abrogation of historic treaty rights or the corporate pillaging Stephen Harper has buried, like poisonous turds, in his omnibus budget bills, do not lend themselves to the tidy sound bites that nourish the media and feed the news cycle.

Having spent last Sunday afternoon at a panel discussion sponsored by Peace Alliance Winnipeg and Project Peacemakers, I can assure you that Idle No More is about nearly everything that is wrong with our society, but fundamentally it is about love. Love of family, friends, complete strangers, future generations, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the earth we walk on.

Feb. 24, 2013: Jerry Daniels speaking about Idle No More in Winnipeg. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Jerry Daniels: ” The issue is sustainable development.” Photo: Paul S. Graham

Idle No More is inclusive and green. As panelist Jerry Daniels puts it, “A sustainable future is important to not only aboriginal people, it is important to all of us . . . the issue is sustainable development – sustainable futures for our children.” For Leah Gazan, “it’s not just about indigenous people of Canada any more, it’s about all of us. It’s about all of us sharing this land in a really good way.”

Idle No More is about redressing the damage we have done to ourselves and the environment, and preventing more of the same. Chickadee Richard sums it up in as tidy a sound bite as you could find anywhere: “As you heal, you heal Mother Earth.”

Chickadee Richard, Feb. 24, 2013

Chickadee Richard: “As you heal, you heal Mother Earth.” Photo: Paul S. Graham

Michael Champagne: "An injustice to one is an injustice to all." Photo: Paul S. Graham

Michael Champagne: “An injustice to one is an injustice to all.” Photo: Paul S. Graham

Idle No More is about aboriginal youth, says Michael Champagne, but about aboriginal youth unlike those of previous generations: “not only are we educated in Western institutions . . . , we are also educated by the Chickadees of the world, by our elders and our ancestors and our community and we are able to learn about the strength and resilience of our ancestors and our nations.”

Idle No More is about human solidarity. Champagne continues: “We’re able to hear those teachings within the medicine wheel and understand that we are all related regardless of the colour of our skin, and like a circle, it is not complete if one of you is missing . . . if you’re hurting, I’m hurting . . . and if I’m hurting, so are you . . . An injustice to one is an injustice to all.” Champagne was consistent; he included Stephen Harper in the company of those damaged by the system Idle No More seeks to overturn.

Lori Mainville: "no fear, no surrender, only love." Photo: Paul S. Graham

Lori Mainville: “no fear, no surrender, only love.” Photo: Paul S. Graham

Idle No More cannot be contained or controlled says Lori Mainville. “The media poses a skewed version – always trying commodify or standardize or put it in a dichotomy and this is a people’s movement. The definition rests with the people and our relationship with the people, our allies, our brothers and sisters in each moment as this energy reveals itself. There’s no way you can cap [it].”

Idle No More is an obligation for those who love Mother Earth. “I guess you could say in . . . protecting the land, the waters, we’re your last resort,” says Jo Seenie Redsky. “I know the world is watching our people here, in the country of Canada, to see us rise up and protect what everybody needs to protect and that’s the land and the waters and those yet to come.”

Leah Gazan: "Idle No More is the newest version of a 500-year struggle." Photo: Paul S. Graham

Leah Gazan: “Idle No More is the newest version of a 500-year struggle.” Photo: Paul S. Graham

At its base, says Redsky, Idle No More is about love. “There’s an unconditional love that we have for our kids. That protection that we have for them is the same protection that we need to have for Mother Earth.” For Lori Mainville, whatever the risks, “I keep remembering that the greatest equalizer is love . . . no fear, no surrender, only love . . . For me, it’s about love as a mother and a grandmother and a sister and a community member.”

My reduction of this discussion to a matter of love aside, it is difficult to sum up a discussion of this importance in a few paragraphs.

Fortunately, I brought my video camera.

If you want to get involved, you can find Idle No More on Facebook and on the World Wide Web. As the weather warms, I have a feeling you’ll be able find it and join it in the streets. Don’t hesitate, because I’m sure you’ll receive a warm welcome.


The Riverview Hoop House was one of the projects on display during a walking tour of urban agricultural projects organized by the Sustainable South Osborne Community Co-op in June in Winnipeg. Coordinator Scott Harrison explains how it works. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Where does your food come from? If you’re like most of us, your reach is truly global. Tomatoes from Mexico. Grapes from Chile. Oranges from Florida. Lettuce from California. And that steak on the barbecue? It may have started life on a Manitoba farm but it was probably fattened, slaughtered and processed in Saskatchewan, Alberta or the United States.

While some of our food is grown and processed locally, most of it travels several hundred to several thousand kilometres before it lands on our plates.

Our food doesn’t walk. Ocean going vessels, rail cars, and long haul truckers carry the bulk of it, with some luxury items travelling by air. This far-flung, complex transportation network enables us to enjoy an almost limitless variety of foods from around the world, regardless of the season.

This abundance is a relatively new phenomenon. While the peoples of the world have traded foodstuffs from one region to another throughout recorded history, it was only after the development of fossil fueled modes of transport that our globalized food system became possible.

That era will soon be coming to an end because the energy source that made it all possible is running out. As oil consumption continues to outpace oil discovery and production, energy prices will continue to rise. Because every aspect of our food system, from production, to processing and transportation depends on oil, the prices on our global menu will continue to grow, and they will grow beyond the reach of most citizens.

Simply put, our existing globalized food system is not sustainable. The sooner we begin to make the transition to a more rational system the better.

While governments appear to be largely unaware of this looming threat, small groups of citizens have recognized the problem and are beginning to look for solutions.

One of these is the Sustainable South Osborne Community Co-op, located in Winnipeg, MB. In June 2012, I joined a walking tour of projects the co-op has going in its neighbourhood.

Here is my video report.