Indian and Northern Affairs Canada is no steward of the land

by November 15, 2009

The Auditor General of Canada, Ms. Sheila Fraser, has singled out Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) for its abysmal role as a steward of Indigenous lands.

According to Ms. Fraser, who released her 2009 audit to the House of Commons last week, INAC, and to a lesser extent, Environment Canada, has routinely failed to regulate environmental threats on reserves leading to a "significant gap" when compared to the rest of Canada, where regulations are strictly applied.

"As a result, people living on reserves have significantly less protection from environmental threats than other communities,” says Ms. Fraser.

"For example, while regulations under the Indian Act require a permit issued by INAC to operate a landfill site or burn waste on reserve lands, the Department has issued few permits and is not equipped to conduct inspections, monitor compliance, and enforce the regulations. Consequently, garbage is often not confined to licensed landfill sites and there is no monitoring of the impacts on drinking water sources and air quality. Off reserves, provincial and municipal regulations and enforcement help to prevent such situations."

Similarly, while provinces like Ontario have their own set of legal provisions to address environmental emergencies-- such as oil spills, which require a detailed report and clean up--there are no such regulations for reserves. "Such provincial requirements, which apply to spills of pollutants generally, do not apply on reserves," says Ms. Fraser.

In fact, there are almost no federal regulations to govern environmental protection on any of Canada's 642 reserves. In effect, this means reserves are "regulatory dead zones," perhaps comparable to the oil fields of Nigeria and Ecuador, where corporations have been allowed to pollute and engage in criminal activities with impunity.

INAC readily admits to the lack of regulations and "enforcement tools," namely, to prevent the development of more contaminated sites; But even so, they have not even tried to fill the gap. Instead, they just keep blindly giving more reserve lands to companies--whether or not a Band Council, let alone the community, provides its own consent.

There is a specific set of criteria INAC is supposed to meet before leasing reserve or treaty land. Most notably, according to the current land management provisions of the Indian Act, it must ensure "that the condition of the land is evaluated and, if required by law, that an environmental assessment is completed."

To determine whether or not INAC has been obtaining the required information and meeting other standard requirements, for the audit "a representative sample of 51 of the 936 leases on reserve lands in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Ontario that were processed under the Indian Act over the past three years."

The audit found that INAC failed to meet the requirements 60 percent of the time.

The fact is understated in the audit, however, it may very well be that these other leases are illegal. Further investigation seems appropriate.

The audit continues, "A standard provision we found in leases states that lessees must respect all applicable environmental laws, including those of provincial governments. Since provincial land management laws do not apply to reserves and there are few federal regulations governing environmental protection on reserves, it is questionable whether a lease clause requiring compliance with applicable environmental regulations provides any increased protection for the environment or human health." (emphasis added)

The Auditor General's Report also examines, however briefly, the widespread contamination on reserve.

According to the Treasury Board of Canada's Federal Contaminated Sites Inventory, which was developed as part of the Federal Government's Contaminated Sites Action Plan (FCSAP), there are currently 4464 known contaminated sites on reserve. (However, it should be noted that the inventory only contains sites that are considered by the Federal Government to be their responsibility. It does not, for example, have any listings for Fort Chipewyan. A host of other sites have been similarly excluded.)

Of the 4464 sites listed in the inventory, Indian and Northern Affairs has identified 1,610 sites. 557 of those are classified as medium- or high-risk sites that require some kind of remediation. According to the Auditor General's report, the cost of remediating all 1,610 sites is estimated at $143 million.

The Auditor General's report explains that, under FCSAP, the federal government has a $3.5 billion cost-sharing program to help INAC and other departments address toxic sites, providing the contamination occurred before April 1998.

INAC only took action on 58 sites during the 2008–09 fiscal year, says the report, spending $10.8 million from the $3.5 billion program.

According to INAC, they didn't have the funding necessary to work on any more sites.

Further, in a 2008 evaluation of its Contaminated Sites Program (CSP)---the implementation of which falls on to "the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Northern Affairs Program and the Assistant Deputy Minister of Land and Trust Services," according to INAC's 2002 Contaminated sites management policy---INAC will not be able to meet the 2020 target, again, because of a lack of funding.

As well, "according to the evaluation, none of the confirmed high-risk or medium-risk sites on reserves had been fully remediated and no actions had been taken for two thirds of these sites to mitigate the potential risks to health and the environment," notes the Audit.

Final Thoughts

There's a lot left to be said about INAC's inadequacies and perhaps even criminal activities when it comes to environmental protection, its negligence when dealing with crises and its refusal to adhere to existing regulations.

Most disturbingly of all, INAC's "woeful" exploitation of the lack of regulations when leasing lands to corporations. Most of the time, they can't even fulfill their most basic "constitutional obligation to consult" a community before telling a company they can have some of their traditional territory. Instead, they give the land to the company first---and then tell the community to talk to the company while they, INAC, acts out the role of "the noble mediator." The peace maker.

And who knows how many of these companies are being fueled by investments from the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP)---something that few people are willing to talk about these days. Not to mention the fact that indigenous people are being routinely arrested, beaten and thrown in jail for trying to stop companies from destroying even more land and releasing even more toxins. There's plenty of regulations for that sort of thing.

Hopefully, in the weeks and months ahead people will start coming forward to discuss these matters in more detail.

As a final thought, let us instead turn to one of INAC's triumphs--possibly one of the 58 contaminated sites they took action on this year.

You may recall reading about an open "toxic wound" that was left in the middle of the Attawapiskat Cree Nation reserve this past March.

An INAC-funded gas line burst in 1979, which allowed some 30,000 gallons of hydrocarbon oil to pool under the reserves one and only school.

It took INAC 30 years to finally give the go-ahead to tear down the school, which the community was forced to abandon years ago.

Soon after the school went down, in March 2009, the community of Attawapiskat was hit with an outbreak of headaches, nausea, skin rashes, nosebleeds, and chronic diarrhea.

In response to the crisis, the Band Council declared a "state of emergency" to evacuate their kids from the reserve. However, They needed INAC's help for the evacuation.

INAC refused to help. According to their own tests, there was no need for an evacuation.

Discussing the issue in Parliament at the time, INAC Minister Chuck Strahl said the whole thing was nothing more than a publicity stunt being propped up “on the backs of needy aboriginal people.”

Today, with the harsh northern Ontario winter just weeks away, the community is "desperate and abandoned". Almost of half of the reserve, population 2000, is now consider homeless by social services. INAC still hasn't offered to help.


  • gilli
    November 15, 2009 at 10:58 am

    so much truth is coming out now. our prayers for peace and justice will all be answered. the good first nations peoples will live in harmony again. they have so much to teach and share with humanity. in love and gratitude.gilli


  • anne
    November 15, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    I would like to see a complete audit on INAC and how much money is used in the upper echelon of Management and how much money is actually filtted down to First Nations people.
    I have noticed dramatic decrease in services to First Nations people in area of Health services.
    Where is all of the money going? Who is monitoring this?
    The land use audit is only one example of how the federal government views the first stewards of this land.


  • Cathy Ginnish
    November 15, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    Indian Act National Class Action lawsuit would exterminate Indian Affairs (INAC)>


  • November 15, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    Thanks for commenting everyone.

    Anne: There was a full audit on INAC a couple years ago. I never actually saw the numbers but from what I heard, it was completely inadequate. I'll try and find it for you/us (or, if someone else has it, please share it here).

    Cathy: A class action lawsuit is a great idea. I've suggested the same thing in the past, and I know many others have as well (eg, one for mercury victims on reserve.)

    There's alot of hesitancy when in comes to ditching INAC, though. Especially among band councils, who ultimately get their pay cheques from them.

    But even so, I think we all know INAC's intentions. They've been the same since day one and they will never be any different.


  • Dean
    November 16, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    They can audit all they want. This has been a problem for years. Chuck Strahl,needs to be strung up for dismissing the situation. Its just another in a long line of abuses.
    It's time something was done about INAC. This will continue if we let it. I wish I knew where to start because I would expose the government for what it really is.


  • Edna LittleFish Spring
    November 16, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    I would be deeply ashamed if I belonged to INAC!
    I just bet, if these People were "White", this would NOT be happening to them, what do you want to bet???
    BUT, You KNOW what???? These People are humans and you religions tell you to "Love Your Neighbors as yourselves"! So DO IT! LOVE YOUR NEIGHBORS, ALL YOUR NEIGHBORS!


  • Bev Jacobs
    November 16, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    Hi, do you have a link to the report?


  • anne
    November 16, 2009 at 7:30 pm

    Thanks Cathy;
    Would like to read the audit if someone can direct me to a site or a paper.


  • November 17, 2009 at 10:44 am

    Bev: You can find the auditor general's report at

    The stuff on INAC can be found under "Chapter 6—Land Management and Environmental Protection on Reserves" which you can directly download here:

    Anne: I'll get to looking for that audit in the next couple days.

    Dean: you're right, none of this is new, and the audit doesn't really mean anything. It's alot like the Public health report that went out last year---which no one has ever really talked about:

    It was an important report, but we didn't need anyone to tell us that we are sick.

    Personally, I think INAC needs to be shunned. This is even more important than leading a Class action suit. I mean, let's face it, how many court decisions in Canada have ever really ended in our favor---that the govenrment is actually willing to respect? We can't even get the court to say that we have the right to say no to development. That's like saying a woman doesn't have the right to say no to being raped. There is literally no difference.

    The Indian act, and its administrative body, INAC, is a crutch that disables us socially, economically, culturally, and politically. We need to throw the crutch away and start working from a position of strength, to make them sit at our table as our equals instead of sitting at their table as their subordinates.


  • Cathy Ginnish
    November 17, 2009 at 11:23 am

    Well many of us in the east & under the Indian Act (IA) law regime INAC the longest too plan on an IA class action lawsuit bigtime no matter who likes it or not...IA is law---to pretend it does not exist as in "shunning it" is denial ...winning or not we put Canada in the international spotlight of human right atrocities on all aspects not just environmental issues ...IA has has to be challenged once & for all time and treaties enforced-our true law and basis of all our rights-only way is to destroy IA our modern day trojan horse >


  • November 17, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    Hi Cathy. I don't really mean we should go in denial. What I mean is that we could just act in our own best interests and live our own lives (in accordance with our own values and traditions) regardless of what the IA says or what the government wants.

    It might not be very practical, but this is what sovereignty is about at its core. And it's the sort of thing we would have to do if the class action happens to go our way and Canada finally agrees to respect the Nation-to-Nation relationship. There's nothing to stop us from doing it right now.

    At the same time, We do need the Class action lawsuit. Absolutely. And the world needs to see the malignant face that Canada has so carefully hidden from the public.

    We have to work every angle, so long as we don't compromise ourselves in the process.


  • Cathy Ginnish
    November 18, 2009 at 5:57 am

    We are acting in our own best interests & asserting sovereignty internally plus IA law national class action lawsuit and treaty recognition/enforcement courtcase is definitely on the horizon bigtime & that's within our own traditional treaty Indigenous community decision making "as between us" and will move forward.You can disagree or agree on class action but we are decided on action -being proactive in decolonizing our communities through destroying IA discriminatory law to move forward Ahni (what's you real name ?) Our lives have been compromised since 1879 with the creation of the governments legislated angle -the IA -that's reality.We understand all the angles>


  • November 18, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    Anne: Well, it looks like I found the audit! Or one of them, at least. This isn't the one I had in mind, but it still outlines everything pretty well.

    As a general note to readers, this may seem like a lot of money, but if you break it all down you find that very little actually makes it to where it needs to go. The audit I was looking for shows this aswell. I'll have another look for it.

    It's also good to keep in mind that Canada owes more than a trillion dollars (more) to Indigenous nations here. For Six Nations alone, Canada owes something like $330 Billion.


  • November 18, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    Forgot to mention, Cathy, my birth name is John Schertow.


  • Shadowwolf
    November 19, 2009 at 5:36 pm

    I have been away but am back now,this gives me confusing emotions anger sadness and downright heart breaking remorse this news breaks my heart right down to the core.Why do they hate us so?to this day they still treat us like second class citizens if that at all.It makes it very difficult to get along with this government and even Canada for that matter personally speaking.What makes them better then us?why do they think they can treat us so horribly?the Canadian government is spear heading change to Irans human rights record yet they are right what of our human rights sometimes they don't even treat us like humans.Reports like this shows they have absolutely no respect for us.Just as they have no respect for this living planet what the hey they seem to have no respect for all of creation for that matter.Once again this news saddens me greatly,and angers me to the core.I can't write anymore i'm dumbfounded...


  • Shadowwolf
    November 19, 2009 at 6:07 pm

    If this continues i'm considering spearheading a movement against this government in the coming spring and or summer i will continue my investigations this winter and then make my decisions in the spring on Canada wide protests in which i must lead these protests.So as they only come after me,government RCMP and whomever is against my people and this living planet.


  • LittleBear
    November 26, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    I Remembernot that long ago , they moved THE INAC Office FR: HLFX TO: Amherst ,NS. It was a Polictical move ,for the People work'n for INAC, well the mainstream Society noticed that these PPL work'n for the reserves were pretty well off, having mansions &swimming pools in the backyards. The Point is They all helped themselves to most of the money,between them & The Cheifs,by the time it got to the People ,most of the monies were all exhuasted into their pockets, A very well known practice still happening as we speak today, The Only difference is , all the crooks have Top notch Liars as Lawyers. The worst is yet to come for the Treaty people, The first Nations Leaders have lost their Path in helping their poor living in Poverty,they seem to only think of themselves, sad part of it is that,The $ signs are put before the Needy. I can see the Cheifs rolling out the red Carpet for THE INAC Minister ,to walk on as long as their is a Honourium ,a big Fat pay cheque @ the End of the Table @ the end of the day. Treaty Rights are a on the ENDANGERED List. Thanks for the Greedy and selfish Leaders,@ The end We the poor all suffer in the Power of the Almighty $. Peace ~


  • Shadowwolf
    November 28, 2009 at 1:19 am

    I have heard of much of what you speak of LittleBear,in the last few years.I feel that INAC and the government only put in and support tribal leaders that agree with them and if they don't they cut off funding sometimes to that person who disagrees with them sometimes their whole family and sometimes even whole nations like they did with the Lubicon Crees who of course disagreed with them and their friends at Transcanada their is also arrests and they put the trouble makers in jail like they did with the Mohawk leader Sean Brant or kill them like they did with Dudley George.But when it comes from our own people yes that too hurts.Money is a part of the axis of evil in this world it makes people do horrible things to get it,I look forward to the change that is coming.


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