At least for the time being, water continues to serve its purpose to provide life-giving water to Mother Earth as it flows freely, creating paths to hydrate all forms of existence on this elaborately-created planet.

Rivers and lakes run throughout Noopemig, providing water and nutrients that enable life to flourish throughout Planet Earth. It is said that about 74-75 % of our planet is covered under water by rivers, lakes, oceans, and polar ice caps. It is also said that our bodies are comprised of about 70% water located mostly in our cells.

According to the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN)  97.5% of the water covering the earth’s surface is seawater (salt) and 2.5% of the freshwater is located in glaciers, permafrost and groundwater which would be difficult and expensive to access.

The IEN website on the World Water Statistics says that “less than 1% of the world’s water is available for human consumption,” and that “over half of that 1% is polluted and unusable for human consumption!!” The website includes a quote attributed to Julie Stauffer, author of “The Water Crisis,” which says that, “Not only is the level of water in the global well getting low, the water is also polluted sometimes to the point it is no longer drinkable.”

Along with the water becoming undrinkable comes the impact on the traditional food supplies in the Far North through the fish and animals that use these same waters, which then provide the main food sources of peoples who have traditionally lived on and off the land. The communities in the Far North see these waters as culturally significant and as their lifeblood – providing clean drinking water for all life, habitat for fish and water life, food and travel ways, moisture for the air, etc. –  and deem them worthy of protection.

Wildlands League will be collaborating with communities and tribal councils in the Far North of Ontario, who live on or near four (4) major rivers over the next two (2) years to advance watershed planning.

The four major rivers, the Albany, Winisk, Attawapiskat and the Severn watersheds are four (4) of only 12 left in North America south of 55 degrees that remain undammed and unregulated (although there is a diversion on the Albany River near its headwaters upstream) thus making them ecologically significant. The Ekwan is another river community members have expressed concerns about too.

This project will support tribal councils and indigenous communities, who are often most impacted by water quality and water quantity changes, “to develop culturally-appropriate, community-based approaches to watershed stewardship,” including “advancing mutually-supported river-system goals.”

It will also increase the awareness of watershed protection and the need for proactive planning and the tools and options that are available for the protection of watersheds. As development like forestry and mining move northward, there is an increasing need to understand how ecosystems function and what the impact of development will be upon these ecosystems including their consequences to the Far North communities.

A majority of First Nation communities do not have the resources or the capacity to begin to deal with the changes that are coming into their traditional territories. Wildlands League is committing more than 13% of its budget this year to providing support and capacity to advance watershed protection for the maintenance of healthy ecosystems. This means 13% of its budget is going directly to First Nations. This is an important feat.

Although there are legal mechanisms in place that say that activities like mineral resource development will be done, “in a manner consistent with the recognition and affirmation of existing Aboriginal and treaty rights in Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, including the duty to consult and accommodate and to minimize the impact of these activities on public health and safety and the environment,”  increasingly, third party interests are being established in First Nation traditional territories without the knowledge of the communities or consideration of environmental protection.

Claim staking continues under the old Mining Act free-entry system as the new regulations under the newly-reformed Mining Act will not be available until April 2012. These claims will then be grand-fathered and will not be affected by any community-based land use planning by First Nations under the Far North Act.

Exploration continues in places like the Ring of Fire, which is considered by some to hold one of the world’s largest chromite deposits in the lowlands of Hudson’s Bay. It is expected that the activities in the Ring of Fire will have a direct impact on at least three (3) of the major rivers including the streams, creeks, rivers and tributaries in the Ogoki, Kapiskau and the Ekwan watershed catchment areas.

While a coalition of environmental organizations has called on the federal government to set up a joint-review panel to ensure that mining development is monitored closely and that these activities adhere to environmental standards, the silence has been deafening thus far….

The roar of the rushing rivers continue throughout Noopemig, seemingly oblivious to the increased risks and pressures, that development will place on fragile ecosystems and to the peoples who depend on these waterways to continue running freely.

Why has it become necessary for the environmental groups to reach out beyond the borders of Ontario to try to ensure mining development is monitored so that it adheres to environmental standards? What are the communities in the Ring of Fire doing and what does this mean for the watersheds located on the traditional lands in the Far North? More on this in my next entry next week.

Share on Facebook