Indigenous Land: Canada's Toxic Storehouse

by June 19, 2008

In the news today we often hear stories about indigenous communities setting up blockades to protest government policies and to protect their lands, rights, and traditions.

In reading statements these communities issue to the public, we can see that they're standing on the edge of an abyss: expected to remain silent while corporations (with the governments full consent) destroy everything they hold sacred and everything that makes them unique.

The corporations proceed without remorse or regard for the People they impact. They just want to get at the "free resources."

In turn, the People say they have no choice but to try and stop it--and indeed they don't, because their inaction would mean accepting a death brought on by men who sleep a little too well at night.

That said, we're halfway through 200, and so far this year, we've seen more than 5 dozen protests, roadblocks and countless lawsuits brought forward in defense of Indigneous lands and rights. The number will continue to rise as long as the federal and provincial governments refuse to uphold their legal mandate by engaging in meaningful consultations with Indigenous People - and in so doing, respecting their right to say no, and their right to live in peace with their cultures, lands and traditions intact.

Canada's Toxic Storehouse

Lurking behind these efforts, so far away that most people can't see it, let alone make sense of it: there is a massive health crisis in Canada.

According to a Treasury Board of Canada Inventory on contaminated sites, amidst all these protests and roadblocks, there are 4,464 toxic sites within the treaty territories of Indigenous People.

That's roughly 1.5 sites for all of Canada's 2,720 Reserves -- though in reality, some reserves have upwards of a dozen sites, while others have none. (Here's the link to the inventory and directions on how to navigate. )

By the looks of things, Canada is doing next to nothing to clean these sites.

And, sadly, there is next to no one reporting that fact. No articles are being written in the paper, next to no studies or investigations are being carried out, and even fewer resources are available to those who are suffering or in danger as a result of exposure to the toxins.

There are, however, a small handful of legal efforts aimed at those responsible for the sites, directly or indirectly. For example: the Beaver Lake Cree, the Woodland Cree and the Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nationa are all suing the Alberta government because of the impact that oilsands development is having on their treaty rights, their lands and their health.

Several communities have issued moratoriums on industrial activity for the same reasons. Examples include the People of Kitchenuhumaykoosib Inninuwug, Grassy Narrows, Takla Lake, Serpent River, as well as the Dehcho, Chipewyan, and Tahltan.

There are also a few - but only a few - community efforts that monitor the levels of toxins. Currently, the Aamjiwnaang Bucket Brigade... is the only example I can find.

Where are these toxins coming from?

Noting the fact that there are numerous contamination sites not mentioned in the Treasury Board Inventory (see below), are you wondering where all these toxic sites are coming from?

Click here to see MAP

What you see here is a google map put together by the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) - Canada's legislated, nation-wide inventory of pollutants released, disposed of and recycled by industrial facilities.

The map lists over 8,600 facilities in Canada, who together released, etc. more than 300 different chemical substances in 2006.

Here's the same map with an overlay of all Indigenous communities in Canada

  • NPRI Facilities. In viewing this map, please remember that it's two years old. It therefore under-represents the current number of facilities in Canada, especially those pertaining to oil and mining.
  • Indigenous Communities. This map was created by Canada's Department of Indian Affairs, so it only includes communities "recognized" by Canada. The Lubicon Cree for instance, are not listed on the map.

Toxic sites not included in the Database

As noted above, there are several contamiantion sites that Canada failed to mention in the database. These sites include:

Primary mining sites such as tailings ponds, landfills, slurry injection sites, and so on.

Radar line sites: There were/are at least 100 military Radar line sites throughout the Subarctic, as referenced in "An Aboriginal Perspective on the Remediation of Mid-Canada Radar Line Sites in the Subarctic: A Partnership Evaluation"

Government-funded housing: There is a major problem with Black Mould and Asbestos in the government-funded housing on treaty lands.

There's one last set of sites not mentioned in the database... According to a 2005 Report by the Assembly of First Nations (pdf), all of Canada's 22 nuclear reactors are situated on Indigenous Treaty Lands. The Nuclear waste is stored on-site.

Further Reading

If you have any thoughts or information that can improve or further this brief, please add your comments below.

  • June 19, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    Oops, I posted this preemptively. Stay tuned for more information.


  • B.Z.
    June 19, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    This is Terrifying. :O


  • Ainslie
    June 20, 2008 at 9:18 am

    This is powerful and needs to be "out there" in the media.

    It might also be useful to also have a map showing sites that are on privately owned land, and Crown land for comparison. If there is a disproportionate number on FN lands it will be "graphically" evident.

    Or, show the sites (all) overlayed with other demographic data usually available from government census sources:
    life expectancy
    infant mortality
    cancer rates

    Mitakuye Oyasin.


  • June 21, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    That it is BZ. What's even worse is that the issue of toxins is only a portion of what Indigenous People in Canada are faced with. The loss of culture, language, territory, and means of subsistence is equally pressing. So is youth suicide and substance abuse.. and let's not forget all the indigenous women in Canada that have gone missing.

    Ainslie, you've really got me thinking now. I'm tempted to try and put something together that lays out everything. I'm just not sure I could manage it on my own. For the time being I'm going to keep this article in draft mode, and continue updating it over the next couple weeks. After that I'll get started on part 2 - which is going to talk about what people can do to stay healthy, (ie diet, herbal medicines you can take to get rid of toxins, to strengthen your immune system, etc.)


  • Ainslie
    June 22, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    One place to look for help with the mapping part of this would be a GIS/digital mapping program at a college or university. (I have a degree in geography, but never learned GIS - prefer hand-drawn. Maybe I should learn it - maps like the ones you have posted can be very powerful.)

    It strikes me that the need for a "Part 2" arises precisely because the people have been cut off from land, so all of the traditional knowledge of what's good to eat, which plants carry what medicine, etc. has been "deleted", just as the plants themselves have been scraped away by the mining companies' bulldozers....

    with respect,


  • June 23, 2008 at 7:36 pm

    I really wouldn't know where to begin in approaching a university - I'm thinking more along the lines of working with a small group of volunteers (say 15) to put together a social, economic, environmental, cultural, political, legal, and physical (health) report card. Sort of like what the ITC did only much more thurough. We could call it "Who's Sorry Now?" Or who knows, that's probably the last thing to work out.

    As for the maps, it's pretty easy to make them like the one's above, are you familiar with google earth, Ainslie? It's a pretty handy tool.

    Lastly, aside from the obvious apathy and arrogance of industry that's destroying the land, etc - you're absolutely right. I don't know alot about Medicines myself, but I have a friend who does and I'm going to be working with him for that part. Dr Laurie Chan also talks about the importance of diet, so I'll be putting up stuff from him aswell, among other things. I'm hoping to be pretty thurough with this, so it's going to take a while to write.



  • Ainslie
    June 29, 2008 at 9:40 pm

    Thanks Ahni,
    I looked into Google Earth further and see that they have a good array of tutorials and an Outreach program to support non-profit organizations to tell their stories in maps.
    It sounds as though you have a clear vision for this project. I look forward to your future entries.


  • Ainslie
    October 1, 2008 at 6:40 am

    I'm now in the GIS/Cartography program at Fleming College in Lindsay, ON
    Starting next year teams of 3 students will work on "coop projects" to produce graphics (such as a map/poster) for an agency, ministry or organization. We aren't in a position to do research and produce data (too short a time frame), but if we can access information from researchers and existing databases, we can produce something that might be helpful. My interest is in using maps to tell powerful stories....
    Are you interested?


  • October 2, 2008 at 11:14 am

    hmm... maybe, Ainslie. What about the one you mentioned earlier, that would show income/poverty, life expectancy, etc.? It would be interesting to see that compared to the above-NPRI map.

    It'd also be extremely useful to have a map that outlines contamination hot zones in Canada: the most urgent (sarnia region, fort mckay, all mercury-effected communities, etc.) to the least.

    Another idea: there's alot of evidence coming out now (which is getting little attention) that shows a link between pollution and diabetes. Maybe you could do one that shows all communities with high levels of diabetes in relation to the industries that surround them.

    Let me know what you think :)


    ps, in any event, you/we could probably enlist the help of John Hummel, a researcher that focuses on pollution and indigenous communities. He's working his fingers to the bone trying to raise awareness about these issues.


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