The majority of Canadians get up every morning and turn the water tap on to make coffee, jump in the shower, brush their teeth or even to quickly splash their face before starting the day and most don’t give it a second thought. Unfortunately, there are over 140,000 First Nations people in Canada that don’t have the basic luxury most Canadians take for granted, clean drinking water.
The First Nations Drinking Water Settlement was created to compensate First Nations who have been without safe cleaning drinking water for a year or more. Courts have approved the Settlement between Canada and certain First Nations and their members who were subject to a drinking water advisory that lasted one year between November 20, 1995 and June 2021.
Alana Robert, class counsel for the First Nations Drinking Water Settlements says this historic settlement agreement recognizes the First Nation’s right to clean water. It captures over 250 First Nations and over 140,000 members on reserve. The settlement agreement aims to ensure that long-term drinking water advisories on reserve do not become the norm ever again.
“It provides binding legal commitments to bring clean water home to First Nations across the country and keep it there – now, and for future generations,” said Robert. This presents a critical opportunity to transform access to clean water and it signifies a new era – one that many First Nations have long been waiting for.”
Darian Baskatawang, also working as class counsel for the First Nations Drinking Water Settlement says that not having access to clean, safe drinking water for over a year in almost half of the First Nations across Canada is a stain on Canada’s identity.
“We are glad to have come to this agreement and work with Canada to begin to wash away this stain using the clean, safe drinking water this settlement provides.”
Baskatawang shared with First Nations Drum one of the worst drinking water advisories they are aware of in Canada.
“One of the representative plaintiffs, Neskantaga First Nation in what is now (briefly) known as northern Ontario, has had the longest drinking water advisory in Canada, lasting about 27 years and counting. But what makes it the worst is its impact, whether human impact, cultural impact, or otherwise. Neskantaga has been evacuated three times due to its water issues. Children and youth have committed suicide, and long-lasting diseases exacerbated by the simple fact of not having regular access to clean, safe drinking water. This settlement agreement seeks to change that.”
Robert added that Tataskweyak Cree Nation, a representative plaintiff in this case, has been under a long-term drinking water advisory since May 2017. “In Tataskweyak, it is common for children to develop severe full-body rashes from bathing in the treated tap water. This is just one of the consequences of a lack of access to clean water. The horrific realities of long-term drinking water advisories on reserve is a situation that never should have happened in Canada. The settlement agreement aims to eliminate all existing long-term drinking water advisories on reserve, and ensure that this crisis never repeats itself in the future.”
The settlement agreement provides nearly $2 billion in compensation to individuals and First Nations for the harms of having to live under a long-term drinking water advisory. Individuals can receive compensation for every year that they lived on a reserve that was subject to a long-term drinking water advisory. Individuals who experienced certain specified injuries may also be eligible for additional compensation. Any impacted First Nation that accepts the settlement agreement will receive a minimum of $500,000 in compensation, plus an additional 50% of the amount paid to its individual members. But the most transformative aspects of the settlement agreement are the significant forward-looking measures which seek to eliminate long-term drinking water advisories and ensure that access to clean water becomes the new norm on reserve.
This will be made possible by the requirement that Canada spend at least $6 billion by 2030 on water and wastewater infrastructure. The settlement agreement also contains a heightened standard for water on reserve, which requires Canada to take all reasonable efforts to ensure that there is regular access to clean drinking water on reserve. If Canada does not meet the standards set out in the settlement agreement, a new dispute resolution process is available to bring Canada and First Nations together to craft the plan forward. This process includes Indigenous legal traditions and protocols of the impacted First Nation. All of this makes a better future possible, where First Nations can have access to the basic necessity of clean drinking water, like all other Canadians.
Baskatawang says out of the roughly 8 billion dollar settlement, roughly 2 billion is for compensation.
“The other 6 billion is to power the legal commitment to make sure this never happens again. First Nations and Individuals do not have to opt in or worry about not having regular access to clean, safe drinking water again. So while only roughly half of the communities get compensation for living under a drinking water advisory, everyone benefits by the commitment.”
Robert and Baskatawang invite impacted individuals and First Nations to learn more about the settlement agreement by visiting www.FirstNationsDrinkingWater.ca. The claims period is now open. Individuals have until March 7, 2023 to submit their claim forms, and First Nations have until December 22, 2022 to accept the settlement agreement. Our team is here to assist individuals and First Nations every step of the way.
Skylar Veuillot noticed that the natural spaces around her community were slowly being covered with garbage. Discarded fabric near the dump caught her eye.
The member of the Northlands Denesuline First Nation knew that the people in her community were creative and had seen a lot of creative projects being done during the COVID-19 pandemic.
So, Veuillot decided to organize an online blanket crafting event that would upcycle old fabric and engage her community as part of Project Learning Tree Canada’s (PLT Canada) Green Leaders Program.
“My goal was to bring warmth and to bring people together during this pandemic, especially those who are having a hard time because of it,” she said. “And people might gain a positive hobby out of it if they take a liking to sewing.”
PLT Canada’s Green Leaders Program involved mentorship, skill development, and community action. The green leaders, Indigenous youth aged 15-25, planned and implemented a green community-based project which could be an event, campaign, or another initiative of their choice. Participants received up to $1,500 from PLT Canada to deliver their project along with training and development workshops to help support their success. The green leaders were also matched with mentors from the forest and conservation sector to help them complete their project and plan their green career pathway.
“I have a great mentor,” said Veuillot. “She has been giving me helpful advice about my career path.”
PLT Canada’s Green Mentor program is currently recruiting mentees and mentors for the next national mentorship cohort (September 2021). Mentorship can help remove barriers to employment by growing young people’s networks. Learn more at pltcanada.org!
In addition to PLT Canada’s support, Veuillot partnered with the Awasis Agency of Northern Manitoba to help host her project. They were able to help her successfully complete her event, as she was living outside of her community to pursue her Bachelor of Arts.
“It was exciting to see what people would create. All of the blankets were creative and unique to them,” she said.
Through PLT Canada’s Green Leaders program, Veuillot said she improved transferrable professional- and life-skills like budgeting and communication.
“It also reminded me of how I can get things done with the right dedication and the right goal put in place,” she said.
In the past, Veuillot attended the Outland Youth Employment Program (OYEP), a national network of land-based education, training, and work opportunities for Indigenous youth.
OYEP is a PLT Canada Green Jobs employer—PLT Canada offers a 50% wage match to employers who hire youth aged 15–30 in the forest, conservation, or parks sectors. First Nations, First Nations businesses, and community-serving non-profits are also eligible for funding! Learn more at pltcanada.org.
She spent most of her time with OYEP planting trees, doing bush work, and identifying traditional medicines. While Veuillot is unsure about what exactly her dream job is, she is considering a career in the trades after her positive experience working in a Green Job.
“Going green is more important than ever,” he told his viewers. “We want to make sure we’re taking care of the land.”
In January, PLT Canada launched the Green Leaders Program, which involves mentorship, skill development, and community action. The green leaders, Indigenous youth aged 15-25, plan and implement a green community-based project which could be an event, campaign, or another initiative of their choice. Participants receive up to $1,500 from PLT Canada to deliver their project along with training and development workshops to help support their success. The green leaders are also matched with mentors from the forest and conservation sector to help them complete their project and plan their green career pathway.
Langille decided to host his going green webinar because he thinks it’s important to educate as many people as possible about green issues.
“Education is power,” said the Thunder Bay local. “I think we need to be looking ahead for future generations and start tackling these issues now! I thought the webinar was the perfect way to compile all the information in a presentable form.”
Going green can protect the earth’s ecological balance, reduce pollution, conserve resources, and more, said Langille. It can also save you money, improve your health, and guarantee the future for your children.
“You get a healthier you out of it,” he said.
Langille started off his webinar with the three Rs: reduce, reuse, and recycle. He said, first, you reduce your consumption; then, you try to reuse objects; and last, you recycle if it can’t be reused. Some of his other tips to help save energy and money were turning off and unplugging electronics like power bars when you leave home for extended periods, installing low pressure faucets and shower heads, seeking the most energy-efficient appliances and lighting, and carpooling or walking.
“It’s the small things that make a difference in the long run,” he said.
Langille also gave attendees some gardening tips and tricks.
“I think now is the time to be reconnecting with the land! It creates independence for people, while also keeping them busy and in touch with being a green community,” he said.
He shared how to create a plastic bottle greenhouse, which reuses old plastic water bottles and helps your plants grow. This project can also be done on a smaller scale, with a single plant inside a bottle. Langille sent out low maintenance seeds like chives, spring onions, and radishes to participants so they could get their gardens started as well.
Langille currently works as a tree planter for Outland. The 24-year-old also has plans to go back to school to help him land another green job. PLT Canada offers a Green Jobs Quiz that matches your personality to the rewarding green career paths best suited for you and a 50% wage match for employers hiring youth aged 15–30 into jobs that contribute to a more sustainable planet. The Green Leaders Program is one of the organization’s newer initiatives helping youth pursue and advance their green career pathways.
“During my time in the Green Leaders Program, I developed and worked on my confidence and networking—while also developing skills to help me in the workplace and the real world,” said Langille. “I have to thank PLT Canada for not only supporting me during my journey, but also giving me the knowledge, resources, and confidence to pave my own pathway!”
Fire Safety in First Nations communities is a challenge. Overcrowding and housing repair remain a concern and are just a few of the many factors that contribute to this tragic situation*1.
In the early 2000’s, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) reported that members of First Nation communities across Canada were 10.4 times more likely to die in a fire than the rest of Canadians, per capita. Since then, we have continued to experience fatalities throughout other Nations such as the Inuit and Metis Nations.
A recent report released by Statistics Canada, commissioned by the National Indigenous Fire Safety Council Project (NIFSC) and funded by Indigenous Services Canada, examined the mortality and morbidity related to fire, burns and carbon monoxide poisoning among First Nations people, Métis and Inuit. This study indicated that Indigenous People are over five times more likely to die in a fire. That number increases to over 10 times for First Nations people living on reserves. Inuit are over 17 times more likely to die in a fire than non-Indigenous people. Rates among Métis were higher than non-Indigenous estimates (2.1), but these rates were not significantly different. The study further stated that “The mortality and morbidity rates provided by the new Statistics Canada report are grim but underscore the vision for the National Indigenous Fire Safety Council.” The NIFSC Project has launched programs that include education and training in the areas of community fire safety, community governance support, community infrastructure and engineering support, fire department management, fire investigation services, and fire department operations; all of which are offered to First Nations populations living on reserve. You can see the full report on the NIFSC website: www.indigenousfiresafety.ca/mortality-and-morbidity-report-2021.
A sad reflection of my own thoughts as I connected the dots through my recollection of fire investigations that I have conducted in my Treaty Areas of 6, 7, and 8. I have found that there was limited fire prevention or public education available to the Nations. I would like to see nations placing more importance on fire and life safety prevention and public education so that we can stop fires from happening. Of course, communities must balance the needs of housing programs, water, sewer etc. but fire prevention must be a priority. It is much better to stop a fire from happening than to respond in the hopes of putting it out.
It is important that First Nations develop fire and life safety public education programs and try to reduce property damage, injury and fatalities, while still preserving our traditional land stewardship. 60% of First Nations across Canada live in the vastly forested areas and many may not be participating in FireSmart programs focused on reducing fire loads in their communities. FireSmart Canada has an initiative where they highlight stories of fire stewardship in Indigenous Communities. Blazing the Trail: Celebrating Indigenous Fire Stewardship is an inspirational for all Indigenous peoples. Forest dwellers, women, and local communities Joji Cariño is another recommended read on this subject: http://www.nafaforestry.org/ff/download/volume_5_topic_29_.pdf.
To add more fuel to the fire, we also need to look at other fire prevention measures in fire risk. First Nation communities that evaluate fire risk in their backyard will determine the types of programs needed to reduce risks facing their specific communities. Data on everything – from testing smoke alarms to cigarette smoking to cooking safely can be compiled and measured. With this information, the Indigenous Fire Marshal Service (IFMS) can assist First Nation communities in their Community Risk Reduction Plans. Data-based decision making will support better outcomes.
COVID-19 has made it harder to reduce the number of incidents, as more of our families are spending longer hours at home. This extra pressure on fragile infrastructure is why it is so important to focus on fire prevention and safety in the home right now. Talking with other First Nation fire departments across Canada, I have heard some great ideas like creating an app through the Band Office Facebook account where the home occupant can conduct their own fire safety assessment and setting up video calls between the fire officer and the home occupant for a virtual search of hidden hazards.
I also see this as a great opportunity for our youth to share their ideas for how we might use technology to overcome the physical limits that the pandemic has put on us while also sharing safety messaging to everyone.
I encourage our First Nations, Metis, and Inuit to support the efforts of the IFMS. In turn, the IFMS can support your fire departments, community champions, and our future generations in fire and life safety. It is imperative that we reduce these numbers and look to each other, and help each other, as Turtle Island and Mother Earth need us to do.
Leon Smallboy is from the Ermineskin Cree Nation in Maskwacis, AB. In his role as Deputy Regional Fire Marshal with the Indigenous Fire Marshal Service he works with communities and their fire departments to conduct fire department assessments, home safety assessments, and community fire safety assessments. Leon started in the fire service over 25 years ago with Maskwacis Fire Rescue service before joining the Technical Services Advisory Group, working with all levels of governments and First Nations in Alberta. Leon serves as the Indigenous Director on the Board of Directors of the Canadian Volunteer Fire Services Association and was the past Board President of the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada.
As provincial and territorial governments across Canada continue to respond to the
COVID-19 public health crisis, businesses and individuals are looking for rapid economic recovery. Major
projects – i.e. large, capital-intensive projects such as mines, hydro-electricity and pipelines –
are central to the Canadian economy and form a key component of economic revitalization. These projects take
place on Indigenous land and must only be developed with Indigenous Nations’ free, prior and informed consent.
However, the push for economic recovery is resulting in efforts to fast-track major projects and bypass
environmental and socio-economic oversight, in violation of Indigenous rights. This is particularly clear in the
area of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
What is Environmental Impact Assessment?
EIA refers to:
“the process of identifying the future consequences of a current or proposed action.
The ‘impact’ is the difference between what would happen with the action and what would happen without
EIAs are designed to identify, predict and mitigate the environmental and
socio-economic effects of potential projects before they are authorized to proceed. EIAs are absolutely critical for Indigenous communities because it gives
them the opportunity to voice their concerns, identify impacts on their lands and communities and shape the
conditions under which the project should operate. Indigenous nations have
historically been relegated to the sidelines of the EIA process. However, new EIA legislation and processes in
Canada are moving toward a more meaningful role for Indigenous nations regarding consideration of Indigenous
rights and recognition of Indigenous jurisdiction.
How is COVID-19 impacting EIA?
The Canadian economy plummeted in March of 2020 as a result of business shut-downs
related to COVID-19. Rather than accommodating this unprecedented economic pause, jurisdictions responsible for
EIA across Canada have tried to keep major projects rolling or find ways to speed them up. This approach has
played out in three major ways, each of which have a detrimental impact on Indigenous communities:
1. Business as Usual: During the
initial months of COVID-19 lock-down, various jurisdictions allowed regulatory processes for major projects to
proceed rapidly, with little regard for Indigenous communities’ capacity to meaningfully participate. Despite
the closure of Indigenous community offices, project referrals kept rolling in, regulatory timelines were
unaltered and exploration work continued (such as the Ontario government’s decision to allow remote mine claim
staking permitting processes, over the protests of Indigenous nations). While the protests of Indigenous
communities resulted in some accommodations such as extended timelines, other measures are being put in place to
speed up environmental reviews, such as doubling up process steps that usually occur sequentially.
2. Regulatory Rollback: The EIA process
results in legally-binding conditions that a company must adhere to in order to construct and operate their
project. Some of these conditions include requirements to monitor the project’s impacts and the effectiveness of
its mitigation measures. Various Canadian jurisdictions have suspended some of these requirements (as well as
others) in order to provide companies with greater operational free-reign. For example, the Alberta government
suspended environmental monitoring requirements for oil sands producers, the Ontario government suspended a
section of the Environmental Bill of Rights (since reinstated), and BC, Quebec and Saskatchewan granted leeway
for non-compliance with environmental laws.
3. Fast-tracking: Perhaps the
most worrisome development is an emerging trend to fast-track major
projects with little-to-no scrutiny of environmental and social impacts. For example, Quebec’s Bill 61, would
allow the government to expedite environmental reviews for 202 projects and make certain provisions of the
Environmental Quality Act inapplicable (the bill received substantial backlash and is still under review). In
Ontario, Bill 197 (COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, 2019) introduces substantial amendments to the province’s
Environmental Assessment Act
with the goal of reducing assessment time for major projects by up to 50%. Among many of the changes introduced
by the Bill, automatic assessment for public sector projects will be replaced by a to-be-determined list of
projects designated by Cabinet, class EIAs will be replaced with “streamlined” EIAs, and a mechanism enabling
the public to request a full project review will be removed. Other examples of this trend include Alberta’s
decision to allow open-pit coal mining in the foothills of the Rockies and advocacy from industry groups and
think tanks to accelerate infrastructure projects while streamlining EIA processes.
All of these economic responses to COVID-19 put Indigenous peoples and their lands at
greater risk. Moreover, these measures go against Canada’s legal duty to consult and accommodate Indignous
nations, as well as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (fully endorsed by Canada
in 2016) which states:
“Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which
would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures,
as well as to maintain and develop their own Indigenous decision-making institutions” (Article 18, UNDRIP)
“States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples
concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior
to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in
connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources” (Article 32,
Environmental impact assessments and Indigenous rights should not be sacrificed for the sake of rapid post
COVID-19 economic recovery.
Canadians want the Canadian economy to recover as quickly as possible from the
effects of the global pandemic. Indigenous nations also want a rapid recovery from COVID-19. Indeed, the
pandemic is causing even greater impacts in vulnerable Indigenous communities, particularly given the history of
infectious diseases devastating First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities as a direct result of colonization.
Remote communities face particular challenges as they often have less access to medical equipment and financial
However, business as usual, regulatory roll-back and project fast-tracking will
hinder rather than help Indigenous communities. Indigenous nations need time and resources to carefully consider
proposed projects that have the potential to impact their rights and territories. This may include undertaking
community-based research with elders and citizens to identify values, concerns, knowledge and use – a process
that needs to be respectful, appropriate and cannot be rushed.
Whether Indigenous nations choose to assess the project independently or
collaboratively with the proponent or Crown, they need accurate information to inform their consent-based
decisions and any conditions they may have for allowing a project to proceed.
In an interview with The Narwhal about EIAs being conducted during the pandemic,
Firelight Director and Regulatory (EIA) Team Lead, Alistair MacDonald, stated:
“It can take two to three years to conduct an environmental assessment. That’s a
heavy commitment for an individual nation. Capacity is very limited, very few nations have the funding capacity
or human resources that they could devote a single person to a single environmental assessment. This is not a
‘business as usual’ environment we’re living in, especially for First Nations with multiple responsibilities in
Moreover, fast-tracking the EIA process does not guarantee that major projects will
actually be completed faster and is likely to result in greater costs for government and corporations. In fact,
most project delays result from social conflict regarding unaddressed environmental and social concerns which,
from a business perspective, is not just time lost and money not being made, but also money being spent on heavy
legal costs. One study found that almost half of mining projects in Canada between 2008 and 2012 were delayed
and of that 81% of these projects were delayed due to “non-technical” issues such as lack of regard for social
and environmental concerns thus resulting in court cases (Sestagalli 2017).
Designing Better EIA and Promoting Economic Reconciliation
Now is not the time to start gutting or bypassing EIA processes. The EIA process is
far from perfect, but has made considerable advances over the past 50 years. New federal EIA legislation, new
EIA legislation in BC and developments elsewhere in Canada (such as the Yukon’s initiative to improve its EIA
process) recognize the essential role of Indigenous nations in the EIA, including the importance of early
planning and Indigenous co-management. These processes need to be continuously improved upon to ensure that
projects are sustainable, result in real benefits to Indigenous communities and avoid impacts to the environment
and Indigenous rights.
One of the most innovative aspects of new Canadian EIA legislation is the ability of
Indigenous nations to drive some or all of the process. The Impact
Assessment Act, for example, includes mechanisms for delegating
some of the impact assessment, or even substituting the entire process, to Indigenous jurisdictions. Indigenous
nations are undertaking a greater role in preparing their own studies, writing up reports and co-managing the
process. Despite fears raised by some, the meaningful inclusion of Indigenous nations in the EIA process is
likely to speed up, rather than slow down project approval and construction. When Indigenous issues and concerns
are adequately and appropriately dealt with from the earliest opportunity, proponents will avoid costly and
lengthy mid-EIA battles and project design changes, as well as post-EIA legal challenges.
Economic recovery should not be driven by a focus on developing all major projects as
quickly as possible, but by a focus on developing the right
projects with a view to the future – particularly, those
projects that promote sustainability and economic reconciliation with Indigenous nations. There are many
examples of “shovel-worthy” projects that could benefit the environment and Indigenous communities, such as
orphan well clean-up, Indigenous-led low carbon energy development, infrastructure development in Indigenous
communities, and natural infrastructure projects. Whatever the project, it should be developed in partnership
with the Indigenous nation on whose land it is situated. Additionally, Indigenous nations should take a
leadership role in assessing and approving major projects that occur on their territories. Finally, Indigenous
nations should take on a much more active project oversight role through mechanisms such as Indigenous guardian
By developing the right projects, promoting true Indigenous partnership, enhancing
Indigenous co-management, and supporting Indigenous leadership and oversight during the EIA process, Canada
could seize this moment in history to shape a healthy, prosperous and just future together with Indigenous
For the 100th anniversary of Canada’s National Forest Week, Project Learning Tree Canada (PLT Canada) wants to highlight Indigenous professionals in the sector to inspire more young people to go into the forest.
“Indigenous Peoples are Canada’s original forest and conservation professionals.
They shape every facet of the sector, creating even more opportunity for their communities and for the next generation of leaders,” said Paul Robitaille, Director of Indigenous and Youth Relations, PLT Canada.
Guy Wright, a member of the K’ómoks First Nation, helps ensure sustainable harvesting so forests grow back healthily. K’ómoks First Nation Forestry uses sustainable forest management to create more economic opportunities for their community.
“I pride myself in getting the best return for our trees, which are renewable assets. Our forestry work supports education and all sorts of other important things for the K’ómoks First Nation,” said Wright.
Now a natural resource manager, Wright first became interested in forestry when he worked for KDC Forestry Consulting. His supervisor convinced him to join the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Forestry, and then he got into forest engineering.
“Planning roads and boundaries was like a puzzle. You need to put the pieces together and make it work. I was hooked!” he said.
The K’ómoks First Nation is certified to the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) Small-Scale Forest Management Module for Indigenous Peoples, Families and Communities. Companies that are SFI certified are committed to responsible forestry practices, protecting water quality, biodiversity, wildlife habitat and species at risk.
Through PLT Canada’s Green Jobs wage matching program, the K’ómoks First Nation’s Guardian Program hired a young person from their community this summer. The Guardian Program protects their lands and waters with a traditional decision-making approach.
The K’ómoks First Nation also accessed PLT Canada’s Green Skills Training Fund for first aid and forestry equipment training. The fund provides flexibility for Indigenous communities to design and deliver forest-focused training opportunities. It is part of PLT Canada’s evolving suite of programs and services to better support youth’s Green Job experiences. Other supports include pre-employment skills courses, mental health services, mentorship and financial supports, like an equipment subsidy.
PLT Canada works closely with First Nations and non-profit partners to tailor its environmental education and employment programs to meet local needs and co-create positive change.
“I want to help keep growing my First Nation’s businesses so our people can have even more opportunities,” said Wright.
Wright was profiled in PLT Canada’s “A Guide to Green Jobs in Canada: Voices of Indigenous Professionals,” which is available in English and French and has been translated into Anishinaabemowen and Plains Cree. The guide showcases forest and conservation role models to inspire Indigenous youth to join the exciting sector.
PLT Canada has placed more than 500 Indigenous youth from over 80 different Nations into high quality work experiences—and many of them found placements in their own communities. First Nations, First Nations businesses and community-serving non-profits are all eligible to receive 50% wage matching. Youth and employers can learn more at pltcanada.org!
Have you ever wondered about a day in the life of forester? A biologist? A bird bander?
About 130 Indigenous youth across Canada are learning about these green jobs virtually.
Project Learning Tree Canada (PLT Canada) is hosting three “Green Jobs: A Day in the Life” webinars for the Outland Youth Employment Program (OYEP). OYEP is a national network of land-based education, training and work opportunities for Indigenous high school students. This year, they couldn’t visit job sites because of COVID-19.
So, PLT Canada brought the job sites to them.
Employers filmed typical days on the job, which PLT Canada edited into short, fun clips. OYEP camps tune in to watch the videos, meet the professionals behind them and learn more about Green Jobs.
“[This] is a great idea and will encourage many,” said Catherine Langille, OYEP crew leader in training. “I am happy to be involved with the rangers, and with PLT Canada. As a team, we are glad that we got the opportunity to ask questions over the Zoom call!”
PLT Canada, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and OYEP signed a memorandum of understanding in 2019 to develop more services to meaningfully support Indigenous youth in their education and careers. Through PLT Canada’s Green Jobs program, OYEP has grown from three to six camps, employing over 100 Indigenous youth every summer.
“Helping youth discover their passions and how those can lead to a career can truly be life changing, and PLT Canada has been instrumental in supporting these opportunities,” said Hamish Black, OYEP Coordinator West.
PLT Canada, an initiative of SFI, works closely with First Nations and non-profit partners like OYEP to tailor its environmental education and employment programs to meet local needs and co-create positive change.
With communities’ feedback, PLT Canada has developed an evolving suite of programs and services to better support youth’s Green Job experiences. This includes pre-employment skills courses, mental health services, mentorship and financial supports, like an equipment subsidy and the Green Skills Training Fund, which provides flexibility for Indigenous communities to design and deliver forest-focused training opportunities.
Langille, who is from Seine River First Nation, has taken advantage of many of PLT Canada’s programs: she was hired into a Green Job, received a scholarship to attend a conference, and participated in the mentorship program.
Langille said her mentor has made her more aware of the opportunities awaiting her in the forest and conservation sector.
“Before meeting with my mentor, my ideas were slightly unclear,” she said. “I am so happy to be a part of this. The knowledge I have gained will last me a lifetime, and so will the connection with my mentor!”
PLT Canada also published “A Guide to Green Jobs in Canada: Voices of Indigenous Professionals” to showcase inspiring leaders and role models for Indigenous youth. The Guide is available in English and French and has been translated into Anishinaabemowen and Plains Cree.
“Indigenous Peoples are Canada’s original forest and conservation professionals. They shape every facet of the sector, creating even more opportunity for their communities and for the next generation of leaders,” said Paul Robitaille, Senior Manager, Indigenous and Youth Relations, PLT Canada. “We hope to inspire even more young people to find a place for themselves in the forest with their stories.”
PLT Canada has placed more than 500 Indigenous youth from over 80 different Nations into high quality work experiences—many of whom found placements in their own communities. First Nations, First Nations businesses and community-serving non-profits are all eligible to receive 50% wage matching. Youth and employers can learn more at pltcanada.org!
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg continued her tour of Alberta’s oilsands region on Saturday, an Indigenous group says, conducting interviews that the group says will be part of an upcoming BBC documentary.
The Mikisew Cree First Nation says in a news release that Thunberg spent the day on the shores of Gregoire Lake near Fort McMurray with members of the First Nation, and that her interviews focused on environmental concerns over oilsands development and climate change.
Mikisew Chief Archie Waquan presented Thunberg with a blanket, stating in the news release that the First Nation was honoured to “join forces” with Thunberg as she leads the way in “protecting our planet from the climate crisis.”
Thunberg arrived in Fort McMurray on Friday night and met with Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam, who said he told the 16-year-old to get Europeans to lobby oilsands investors for greener technology to extract Alberta energy.
Earlier Friday, Thunberg addressed thousand of people at a climate rally at the Alberta legislature in Edmonton.
Melody Lepine, who is the Mikisew Cree’s director of government and industry relations, says the First Nation agreed to participate in the BBC documentary some time ago, but only learned in the last few days that Thunberg would also be involved. “That was pretty exciting,” Lepine said Sunday, speaking from Fort McMurray. Thunberg has been making international headlines for criticizing world leaders who she accuses of letting down youth by doing too little to tackle climate change. Lepine said when she was interviewed by Thunberg, she told the activist about the importance of the boreal forest as well as the impacts her community might see from climate change.
But like Adam, Lepine said her community isn’t calling for an end to oilsands development.
“I sort of said this is home to many people and it’s not fair to just put a stop to development here without any plan in place. These projects have been here for over 30 years, and some of these projects are planning to be here for another 30, or 50 or 60 years,” Lepine said.
“And so there’s a lot of work to do in decommissioning and cleaning and reclamation, so we talked about maybe diversifiying the economy here for making sure any transition off fossil fuels is not going to hurt the economic engine of Canada here.”
In March, the Mikisew Cree applauded the announcement of a new 16-hundred-square kilometre wildland park that was created after three energy companies returned oilsands leases to the province and a fourth company agreed to sell back its leases.
The First Nation also noted in its news release an Indigenous energy company is part of what it says is Canada’s largest off-grid solar project.
“I shared some of the success stories like that, that it is possible to reach a balance in environmental protection and economic development and industrial development in the region,” Lepine said.
Thunberg posted pictures on Sunday of her meetings with the region’s Indigenous leaders on Twitter, saying she was “honoured” to meet with them while in Treaty 8 territory.
She has said she plans to keep touring the Americas through a UN climate conference in Chile in December.
Indigenous groups continue to battle over the contentious issue of investing in the Trans Mountain Pipeline.
Last March, an Indigenous group called Project Reconciliation proposed buying a 51% stake in the Trans Mountain Pipeline. The group, composed of Indigenous communities from B.C., Alberta, and Saskatchewan, said buying a majority stake will help to alleviate poverty and gain control of possible environmental risks of the pipeline.
In an op/ed for The Province, they said neither Indigenous people nor Canadian taxpayers will have to procure the money. They offer to raise the $7.6 billion required through a bond issue underwritten by shipper contracts
They also make assurances that Indigenous people will hold no liability, quoting that the Trans Mountain Pipeline will cover that with their own insurance. The group stresses that buying a majority stake will provide a voice for Indigenous communities in pipeline decisions.
“It is critical that we as Indigenous leaders and communities play a significant role in ensuring that this work is carried out responsibly and sustainably,” the group said in the article. “We are asking Indigenous communities to carefully consider how a majority ownership of, and full participation in, a major Canadian resource development project could improve their people’s current and future prospects.”
In strong opposition is the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), who critiqued the buyout in a response letter. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, alongside secretary-treasurer Chief Judy Wilson, argue several points. They write that the pipeline is not as profitable as is promised, the oil economy is unstable, and many First Nations still oppose the pipeline, which can cause more delays and more investment.
“We urge you to … carefully consider the enormous environmental, social, legal, and political ramifications before committing to this project,” they wrote.
Another group led by Chief Michael LeBourdais of the Whispering Pines/Clinton Indian Band wants more First Nations to get on board. His band is one of the 43 First Nations that have signed mutual benefits agreements with Trans Mountain, totalling around $400 million.
He says First Nations have no power or oversight in the current climate.
“The old way of thinking is dependency, looking to Ottawa or somebody else for your livelihood,” he explains of his letter. “I want my own people looking after themselves. I want my children, my grandchildren looking after themselves. That’s who we’re doing this for.”
LeBourdais would like to see the proposal in front of Ottawa by the end of June.
The Squamish Nation has long been a strong and vocal opponent to the pipeline. Khelsilem, elected councillor and spokesperson for the Squamish Nation, says his nation is worried about the potential for Indigenous involvement.
“We continue to have great concerns around the pipeline and its impact to our territory, water, economy, and community, both in terms of safety and long term risk to the environment,” he says.
He says every First Nation should have the self-determining right to control what happens in their own territory.
“We respect the right of other First Nations to make their own decisions and they have to respect ours when we state our opposition,” he says. “They’re possibly entering into a very risky deal, given the future of the industry and the advancement of technology in green industries.”
For the thousands of years the Haudenosaunee Confederacy founded by the Peacemaker has been a powerful force in the protection of Mother Earth. The sacred Roll Call of Chiefs, also called the Hai Hai, which is a national anthem of unity, shows the calling of the chiefs of the various nations, represented according to clans based on natural species, such the Bear, Wolf and Turtle.
The original five nations of the Haudenosaunee founded by the Peacemaker, developed a civilization which was in remarkable sustainability with the life forces of the blessed area around the Finger Lakes and the Mohawk Valley. (often termed Iroquoia) It is revealing that the capital of the League founded by the Peacemaker is at the same site near Lake Onondaga as it was when it was founded. The Onondaga Chief, the Taddadho, still chairs the Confederacy councils.
The Haudenosaunee developed a gentle way of life that did not damage the land that blessed them. They obtained rich yields of the three sisters of corn, beans and squash by farming away from the edges of streams, that provided a great yield of fish, many of which, from Euro-American abuse, such as the Lake Sturgeon (which provides caviar from its eggs), are now so rare that any fishing would threaten them with extinction. In the 1790s the Oneida Chiefs tried in vain to explain to the representatives of the new government of United States that farming and villages should be kept away from streams to protect fish.
The Haudenosaunee cared for the forests around the Finger Lakes a great garden. They deliberately modified these forests in a gentle way. Trees such as maple which provides sugar and syrup were deliberately encouraged. Modifications were also made in the landscape to assist various trees of the Juglen family, which produce edible nuts. These food forest trees include Hickories, Butternut and the Black Walnut. Villages were lined with trees that were orchards of edible native fruits. These included cherries, plums and the Papaw. Peaches were later introduced as a result of French contact.
Through their remarkable diplomatic skills encouraged by the Great Lake of Peace’s mandate to foster the Good Mind, the Haudenosaunee were able to make the Finger Lakes a garden of peace and ecological stability for most of the two centuries of European contact before the American Revolution. This attraction was why in the early 18th century the sixth nation of the Confederacy, the Tuscarora journey from their homeland in South Carolina, all the way to the Finger Lakes. It became a refuge for many other allied nations such as the Delaware, (Pennsylvania), the Tupelo, (Virginia) Samponi, and the Nanticoke. (from Maryland). Iroquoia was a rare peace garden in the English colonies dominated by schemers who would devastate forests by fires to make ashes for soap and cheap foraging for domestic livestock.
When the violence of the American Revolution began to breakout in 1775 with an invasion of Mohawk territory on the way to occupy Montreal, Iroquoia was a remarkable refuge of peace on the Anglo-American colonial frontier. The tragedy of the American Invasion can be seen in the records of the pillage of the US Army attack on the Finger Lakes heartland called the Sullivan Expedition. It recorded lists of well built homes, vast fields of corn, and orchards of cherries, plums and peaches.
Despite the American pillage after the revolution the Haudenosaunee Confederacy was able to establish itself in Canada at Grand River, although some communities of all the Six Nations remained in the United States. (where a Confederacy Council remained at Onondaga. In Grand River the Confederacy was to become a powerful force in the protection of the environment beginning in the 1820s. One remarkable leader. John Brant (Tekarihogen) was a Mohawk Chief of the Turtle Clan. Brant challenged the destructive flooding the Grand River by powerful canal building interests which flooded the most fertile farmlands of the Confederacy. To stop such plunder he ran for the Legislative Assembly and was entered in 1831. He was ousted by a judicial challenge on the basis that some of his electors did not own enough property. Brant died a quite heroic death during a by-election seeking return to the legislature when he perished during a cholera epidemic.
After Brant’s death a new Mohawk Confederacy leader began to emerge George Johnson a condoled chief of the Wolf Clan. During his youth he came under the influence of a formidable Ojibwe leader, Peter Jones, a pioneer forest conservationist. The two would be horrified when at night they came upon the corpses of native people who were dead drunk on the road after falling down from wagons in the winter cold. These victims had allowed white swindlers to clear cut their location ticket forests in exchange for whiskey.
This deadly whiskey driven clear cutting emerged since the forested tract of around 55,000 acres of the New Credit and Six Nations reservations was one of the last well wooded lands in southwestern Ontario. The devastation was so complete that the forests had been so horribly successively burned that trees could not regenerate. Much of what would soon become Ontario had been turned into a desert of dangerously marching sands.
In 1856 Johnson used the Hai Hai condolence ritual when made a Wolf Clan Chief to draw attention to the threat to the community from the marching sands unleashed by the illiterate farmers of Canada West who burned and plundered forests. Following the gathering on the Woods Edge, which enquires of conditions on largely vanished communities of the Finger Lakes, after the recitation of the names of the League’s founders such as Hiawatha, Taddadho, Johnson orchestrated a prophetic warning.
The resounding chants of the names of the founders the Hai Hai at Johnson’s condolence came a vivid warning. This was that the “degenerate successors” had “inherited their names but not their mighty intellects: and in the flourishing region which they left, nothing but a desert remains.” At this time the warnings of the Hai Hai had become quite literal since the Six Nations was threatened by the same fate as nearby Norfolk County, where once thriving farms were being buried in sands.
Johnson led a Confederacy team of 12 Forest Wardens, paid out of revenues obtained from seizures of illegally harvested timber. Johnson’s youngest daughter Pauline would write of the Confederacy’s heroic patrols to stop the whisky dealers and forest poachers. She described in her short story “My Mother” how her Father, “Night after night” concealed himself in the marshes, the forests, the trails, the concession line, the river road, the Queen’s highway”. Here his team of Confederacy bailiffs would “seize” all the swindled “timber he could, destroying all the whiskey, turning the white liquor traders off Indian lands and fighting only as a young, inspired man can fight.”
Johnson was able through a Coroner’s Inquest gather evidence to charge a Middleport tavern keeper, John Mills in the deaths of timber poaching trade found frozen in the cold. Mills responded with an assassination attempt on January 21, 1865. Recovering following a mile long walk to his home Chiefswood, Johnson was able to have Mills locked up for three years in the Kingston Penitentiary.
Eventually following two more assassination threats through its “little force of zealous Indians” the Confederacy was able to effectively curb forest poaching. This set in motion events that would cause the forests at Grand River to double from their 25 per cent cover when Johnson died in 1884 to over half the Territory today.
With the forests of his own community now secure Johnson embarked on an effort to change public attitudes towards forests in Ontario. He became an active member of the Ontario Fruit Growers Association, helping to turn them into the first environmental protection organization in Canada. In these meeting he met two men Charles Drury and Edmund Prout, whose son and grandsons respectively (E.C. Drury and Edmund Zavitz) would turn back the marching deserts that threatened to bury Ontario with sand.
What was most tragic about after having done so much to rescue Ontario from ecological disaster In 1921 the Confederacy council was stripped of legal recognition by the Canada government. The council house was seized along with sacred Wampum. The crackdown against native peoples rights in Canada was so severe that the Confederacy was forced to hire an American lawyer, James Decker, to argue their case to the public since, any Canadian attorney would be disbarred for having them as a client. The oldest daughter of George Johnson, Evelyn had here attempt to gift
After the invasion of the Confederacy Council House was there was no other place in Canada than Six Nations had the iron heel aspect of a foreign occupation. This situation was more oppressive sense nowhere else in Canada had the denial of political rights unleashed such a cruel sting. A nation which once elected a Confederacy Chief to the legislature and helped wrest the return of political rights after they had been stripped away between 1858 and 1986, felt this injustice most grievously.
The Confederacy challenged the colonialist occupation most effectively by a 1959 occupation of the Six Nations Council offices, originally built opened in 1864 a few months before the first attempt by timber poachers to assassinate its leading conservationist George Johnson. The Mohawk elder Danny Beaton while talking to Cree elder Vern Harper got some sense of the brutality of the occupied Canada in the 1950s. The combination of priests and Indian agents that ran reservations could at whim prohibit sweetgrass ceremonies and sweats, using police to shut them down at whim. He saw this with an Innu couple the Pasteens in Labrador, who explained to him how without notices, many Innu families had homes destroyed by flood waters unleashed by surprise by the Churchill River dam.
The band offices, now a library under lease to the Confederacy, was occupied. The occupiers were led by a leader of the Mohawk Ironworkers, Lehman Gibson, who would later become an important elder shaping the work to protect the environment carried out by Danny Beaton, a Mohawk of the Turtle Clan, like John Brant. The worked to keep the Grand River a refuge for now endangered turtles.
A few months after the dramatic occupation, which received positive international support including from the newly swept to power Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, shook Canada up. Political rights which had been swept away were now restored within a few months. Soon afterwards oppressions such the residential school system, the repressive rule by Indian Agents and priests ended. Native communities began to use their new powers to protect the earth. Reside Gwitchin have worked with their Alaskan brothers to safeguard the habitat of the Porcupine Caribou which roam across the international border. Throughout the country co-management agreements with native communities are forged to reduce environmental impacts of forestry and mining. In the 1980s Beaton would work closely with the Gwitchin elder Sara James, to defeat schemes for oil drilling in the calving grounds for the Porcupine Caribou herd Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Beaton assisted the Cayuga environmentalist Norm Jacobs in his dramatic actions to use the Confederacy’ vision of “peace, power and righteousness” to protect the earth. This included defeating a scheme leaked to Jacobs by environmentalist Pat Potter through government documents, to turn much of the Grand River Territory into a garbage dump for Toronto wastes. Jacobs halted efforts by waste haulers to wreck the reserve by giving the Ontario Ministry of Environment the Confederacy’s authorization to act as its agent. He defeated a scheme to create a toxic waste dump in a wetland known as the Lower Cayuga Slough Forest. Beaton would later be raised up to similar heights by his critical role in stopping through an occupation, Dump Site 41, planned above the world’s purest water near Elmvale in Springwater Township.
Beaton was part of an effective team that included himself, Jacobs, and the Onondaga Chief Arni General. Although they could not stop the Red Hill expressway which tragically was bulldozed through during Jacobs dying moments in a Hamilton hospital, the trio helped defeat a more massive scheme, that if built would have been a longer path of destruction. The expressway would have sliced up the Caistor Canborough Slough Forest, a wetland refuge for endangered Canadian amphibians, such as the Western Chorus Frog
Beaton lived up the the Hai Hai’s message calling for a rebirth of the mighty intellects of Founders of the League while speaking in Tyendinaga. He spoke at the opening of a gallery of his some of his photos of distinguished native elders from across Turtle Island. Beaton explained how “In my work for the past thirty years I have helped in win some victories. However, despite this the situation is getting worse, with the oceans that have so far being moderating the climate crisis being impacted. We are looking at an ecosystem collapse”, Beaton warned.
Beaton stressed that it should be appreciated that Ontario is blessed through the impact of the Great Lakes and water generally, to be an area of stability than other parts of the world impacted by climate change. We must protect our waters, a lesson brought home to me by walking around Lake Simcoe to protect its waters.”
In what Beaton proposed, he is working in the traditions of the great Mohawk Chiefs of the Turtle Clan. While John Brant spoke of the threats to farmland by flooding induced by dams and flooding. Beaton drew attention to the dangerous posed to these lands from urban sprawl. As his Turtle Clan chiefs in the past did, Beaton implored, “We must protect our most fertile farmland and water for seven generations.”