Environmental Struggles in Indigenous Communities
As we past the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada, we need to recognise the environmental issues that plague Indigenous communities. Environmental issues, such as climate change, pollution and deforestation, threaten Indigenous communities' way of life because of their interdependence on the land and its associated resources which sustain their way of life. These issues can ultimately lead to the “loss of traditional knowledge, disintegrating traditional governance structures and their cultures” as communities have to adapt to new ways of life to because of anthropogenic environmental activities (United Nations, 2022). Some Indigenous communities are subsistence based, communities that hunt/gather/fish on their lands to meet their needs.
Global warming and climate change risk their livelihoods as environmental changes shift migration patterns, hunting/fishing seasons, and wildlife population levels (UN Environment Programme, 2020). This has lead to severe food crises in Indigenous communities, including First Nations communities in Canada, pushing their members into levels of “food poverty” (Human Rights Watch, 2020).
In Canada, this crisis is in part due to melting ice in the arctic regions, which shortens the hunting seasons for Inuit hunters, affects migration patterns of wildlife, lowers population numbers of wildlife, and increases the dangers of hunting on ice [as it becomes thinner and less stable] (The Guardian, 2018). This has impacted the mental health of communities, such as Rigolet in Labrador, as community members turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with the stress and losses of their ways of life. Unfortunately, this has lead to increased rates of suicide (The Guardian 2018).
Moreover, Indigenous communities are disproportionately affected by anthropogenic actions such as pollution. This is because the lands on which Indigenous communities hunt, fish, and gather have a disportionate number of “polluting infrastructures” such as mines, oil pipelines in their communities.
This has had horrifying impacts on Indigenous communities' health and safety, with unsafe drinking water that impacts access to potable drinking water and personal hygiene; and a wide range of health concerns arising from dangerous levels of pollution, such as “certain cancers, respiratory diseases, high rates of miscarriage, kidney diseases, etc” (Université McGill, 2020).
Spotlight: Aamjiwnaag First Nation
Indigenous Peoples are more likely to experience severe pollution in reserves due to lack of sovereignty; First Nations disproportionately suffer from toxic waste exposure. These adversities are negative reflection of Canada’s prioritization of Indigenous Peoples (or lack thereof) and of Canadian environmental racism (CBC, 2022). This is evident in many Inidgenous communities including the Aamjiwnaag First Nation near Sarnia, Ontario. It is a prime example of a population exposed to what is referred to as the “Chemical Valley” (read: a comogoration of petroleum plants and refineries). Ultimately, this phenomenon resulted in grave implications for those residing in the community, including poor air and soil quality alongside infested waterways. Oftentimes, these conditions go ignored by Canadian government officials and undermined or unbroadcasted to the Canadian public because of prejudice—as opposed to the ever flowing attention and resources sent to non-Indigenous Canadian communities facing environmental crises. Many Indigenous Peoples believe that reconciliation goes beyond recognizing and admitting to historic racism and discrimination but instead actionized solutions. While the National day of Truth and Reconciliation is a monumental day, it does nothing without exercising plans to stop systemic environmental racism. Indigenous Peoples are more likely to experience severe pollution in reserves due to lack of sovereignty; First Nations disproportionately suffer from toxic waste exposure. These adversities are negative reflection of Canada’s prioritization of Indigenous Peoples (or lack thereof) and of Canadian environmental racism (CBC, 2022).
Bill C-230, a recently implemented piece of legislation protecting those most vulnerable to environmental racism. When introduced, it was the first bill to gather statistical evidence of potential environmental hazards across Canada in order to create connections between race and health impacts. It begs for financial compensation for Indigenous communities suffering from environmental damages as well as advocating for safe drinking water and air. This bill has the potential for great improvements in environmental racism for Indigenous communities across Canada (CBC, 2021).