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The Sioux Lookout and Aamjiwnaang Regions: The Battle with Air Quality


As forest fires continue to blaze across Canada, it is the Indigenous populations of Canada that are most affected with air pollution. With many Indigenous communities already under advisories for water pollution and contamination, forest fires affect the air quality within Indigenous communities by creating smog and intoxicating the air with harmful chemicals. Forest fires affect Indigenous communities the most, as Indigenous people live mostly around areas with high amounts of forestry and wildlife. The indigenous communities that are affected by poor air quality through forest fires, chemical toxins, tobacco and population density include the Sioux Lookout Region and the Aamjiwnaang Indigenous communities.

Figure 1. Sioux Lookout declared a state of emergency (NetNewsLedger, 2019).

The Sioux Lookout Region

Sioux Lookout is a small town in Northwestern Ontario, famously known for their forestry, healthcare, tourism, aviation and the Canadian National Railway (Sioux Lookout, n.d.). Due to industrialization and the recent forest fires, the region suffers from intense air pollution. A recent study done by Health Canada concluded that 56% of Sioux Lookout households were exposed to more than 1000 ppm of CO2 (carbon dioxide), exceeding the advised levels. About 20% out of the 56%, scored CO2 levels between 1500-2500 ppm (Kovesi et al., 2022). The Government of Canada deduces the deteriorating air quality to factors of high occupancy, inadequate ventilation and commercial tobacco use (Government of Canada, 2022). Although these factors may contribute to poor indoor air quality, forest fires are the primary cause of current poor outdoor air quality in Canada. Wildfires near Lake Winnipeg may pass Southward into Sioux Falls, contributing to the excess CO2 levels. The excess CO2 levels are affecting the Sioux Lookout youth, with respiratory problems such as asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia continuing to increase in rates (Government of Canada, 2022). Poor indoor and outdoor air quality is heavily linked to these respiratory issues.

The Region of Aamjiwnaang

The Aamjiwnaang Indigenous community stands on the St. Clair River of Sarnia, Ontario, with a population of about 2500 Chippewa Indigenous peoples (Aamjiwnaang First Nation, 2023). While also susceptible to forest fires, the Aamjiwnaang First Nation stands near “Chemical Valley,” an area consisting of 40% of the total petrochemical industry in Canada (Vice Staff, 2013). Residential areas built around chemical plants are highly susceptible to chemical leaks that infiltrate air, water and soil quality. The Aamjiwnaang Indigenous community are continuing to experience the effects of poor air quality, with skyrocketing respiratory problems and hospitalizations within children (Kovesi et al., 2022). Chemical pollutants are also responsible for birth defects, as miscarriages and neurological problems with infants continue to rise (Calvert, 2007). Generally, poor air quality and chemical toxins are heavily linked to birth defects, including infertility, childbirth complications, miscarriages and stillbirths (European Fund for the Balkans, 2022).

Preventions and Protests

The Government of Canada ensures to provide Indigenous communities with relief and assistance. For the Sioux Lookout community, the Government of Canada has focused on improving air quality by providing resources to residents, by installing and maintaining ventilators for mold prevention. For outdoor air quality, the required tools are still unknown, as Indigenous communities continue to suffer with excess smog and pollutants. For the Aamjiwnaang community, protests and government defiance have reaped environmental results in the past. An energy company named Suncor planned to build Canada’s largest ethanol plant near the Aamjiwnaang Indigenous community in 2002. The plan was abolished after Sarnia residents and Aamjiwnaang community members organized petitions, protests and blockades (CBC, 2021). Suncor ended up relocating their efforts however the impact of the Aamjiwnaang Indigenous community serves as a testament to the effects of environmental protests and regulations.

Figure 2. Protesters against Suncor (Spirit of the Sun, 2023).

(The Battle with Air Quality) References
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