Algonquin leader pushes back after nuclear waste disposal site outside Ottawa approved

The Chief of the Kebaowek First Nation says the fight is far from over after Canada’s nuclear regulator approved the construction of a nuclear waste disposal site in a community near Ottawa.

“The right thing to do is to cancel this project based on the fact there’s no reconciliation, there’s impacts on our inherent rights and so that will be a first step,” Lance Haymond told Nation to Nation. “We currently have a number of support organizations and our legal folks are doing a review of the decision.”

The disposal facility is slated to be built at Chalk River Laboratories in Deep River, located on the Ottawa River about 200 km northwest of the nation’s capital.

A number of Algonquin First Nations oppose the nuclear waste disposal facility and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) began public hearings on the proposed construction in 2016.

Despite this, Haymond said First Nations do not think CNSC met its duty to consult obligations and a disposal site for low-level nuclear waste poses a major environmental threat to area land, water and wildlife.

According to a press release from the Kebaowek Nation, 140 municipalities across Canada are also against the building of the disposal site as well as a number of environmental organizations.

Non-compliance motion at the CHRT

The head of the Child and Family Caring Society says the federal government continues to violate Jordan’s Principle and First Nations children continue to pay the price.

“Some of the cases we’ve seen for example are children who lost a sibling and a parent,” Cindy Blackstock said. “There was a memorial coming up and for these children of course it’s a cultural memorial and that’s really important to their healing. I mean you can’t imagine the loss that these kids have suffered but the family was spending all the time trying to get help through Jordan’s Principle that deepened the harm those children and that family have. They shouldn’t at that sacred time being trying to reach a bureaucrat.”

Just before Christmas, Blackstock filed a non-compliance order with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) alleging the government continues to violate Jordan’s Principle because it is not providing child welfare services to First Nations families in a timely manner.

On Friday, the organization will file an affidavit with the CHRT.

Under Jordan’s Principle, the federal and provincial governments are supposed to ensure First Nations children are able to access health, social and educational supports when they need them. Which level of government is jurisdictionally responsible to pay is to be worked out later.

What’s coming in 2024?

McGill University professor Veldon Coburn says don’t expect much when it comes to spending on Indigenous priorities in the upcoming federal budget to be released in the spring.

“I wouldn’t put a lot of hope into increased spending,” he said. “2023 we lost one of the more effective ministers (Marc Miller, former Minster of Crown-Indigenous Relations) that had more influence around the cabinet table and perhaps more pull around with Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland. So, we see the departure of Marc Miller and we still have Patty Hajdu (Minister of Indigenous Services Canada) and then a new face (current Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Gary Anandasangaree) as well too who still really isn’t all that familiar with the portfolio.”

Anandasangaree is a Toronto-area Liberal MP who was appointed to cabinet for the first time by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a major shakeup last summer.

Miller was moved over to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.

Coburn said the federal government will also likely be much more focused on bringing down Canada’s expanding deficits and debts and addressing middle-class affordability problems in the housing market as we move closer to a 2025 fixed election date.

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