SON testimony – Sept. 16, 2013

[…] My name is Arlene Chegahno. I am the Chief of the Chippewas of Nawash First Nation. And also present with me are our Council members. Randall Kahgee is also here with us as the Chief for the Saugeen Council, and his members are also with us. And as part of our meeting process, it always — we always have an opening prayer by our Elder; so we’d like to do that now. Shirley?

[Speaking in native language]

My name is Strong White Buffalo Woman; I’m from the Loon Clan. My helper is the turtle, and I have the spirit of the grizzly.

My name is Shirley John from Saugeen First Nation, Ojibway. Migwetch. I give thanks today to Chief Kahgee for passing me tobacco so I could do the prayer today and to send blessings to each and every one that is here. (Speaking in native language)

I give thanks today, Creator, Mother Earth and the Ancestors. I give thanks today for your many blessings upon the meeting that is before us today and within the next two weeks.

I ask for guidance and healing and protection. I ask you to walk with us and talk with us, to protect us and guide us as we do the work we need to do.

I ask you also the four directions to step in where it is needed, the red, yellow, black and white nations, so that we can walk in peace and harmony with one another and that we will think of the things that we need to do that is before us and present them in a good way, the best way that we can, to have that understanding that we need for each and every one of us so that we know what is going on and what is taking place and what is to take place in the generations to come.

We also ask for protection for the waters, the rivers and the streams and the oceans all over the world, world-wide.

We ask blessings upon them for the next generation to come for our ones that are not here yet.

We ask that there will be balance in our lives and our lands, our — the Mother Earth that we walk on.

We ask for many blessings as we go on our day today, that we will have clear minds and clarity and give us the strength that we need with our hearts, our minds, our bodies, our souls and our spirits.

We ask for many blessings this day as we move forward to do the work we need to do.

And I ask blessings upon our two Chiefs, Chief Kahgee that’s on my right and Chief Chegahno on my left, and to the Council members ofboth communities and to our Anishinaabe people that are present here today and those ones that could not be here today.

We ask that we have the understanding of this whole Deep Geological Repository that we have the understanding that we need and that we still need to understand more to where we need to think of things in a good way and what’s best for each and every one of us.

I give thanks today for your many blessings. Chi-Miigwetch, miigwetch, miigwetch. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Miigwetch.

Well, as you know, Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation together with the Chippewas of Saugeen form the Saugeen Ojibway Nations.

And I’d also like to give acknowledgment to our community members who are in attendance. The presence of so many members of our community here today is a real demonstration on how significant this process is to our people and our future. It is no exaggeration to say that matters that will be discussed here over the next few weeks have the potential to change our territory and the future of our people.

I would now like to introduce Chief Randall Kahgee to say a few words.

[Speaking in native language]

Madam Chair, Members of the Panel, I’d first like to acknowledge the Creator for giving us this day, our Elders, our youth, our young people and our people who are with us today from both communities.

It’s always a good thing when we can come together and show that unity as one people, especially with what’s at face and what’s facing our territory now and for many generations to come.

I’d like to acknowledge the Elder who conducted the ceremony this morning, the helpers who prepared the food and all those who attended. Your prayers for strength, guidance for this process are greatly appreciated. I say Chi-Miigwetch.

Madam Chair, we appreciate your opening comments and you have acknowledged our territory. This is what brings us here today, that there is a proposal that the DGR Project be built in the heart of our territory, our homeland – Anishinaabe in our language.

Anishinaabe has been our homeland since time immemorial. The lands and waters have and will continue to sustain our people. Indeed, who we are as a people is deeply linked to our homeland, our language, our culture, our ceremonies, our very identity.

Our people have given their lives in defence of Anishinaabe. Our ancestors, our people are buried here.

When I think of our homeland, I’m reminded of the courage and the foresight of our ancestors during the Treaty process. Our ancestors entered into a number of Treaties with the Crown with the fundamental objective of first and foremost protecting our relationship to the lands and waters and ensuring our homeland would sustain our people for many generations to come.

In 1764, our people gathered at Niagara along with 24 other nations and entered into the Treaty of Niagara which formalized our nation-to-nation relationship with the Crown. The understanding reached between our people and the Crown was simple yet profound. We were separate nations and would each respect each other’s identities as such, neither would interfere with the other. Our lands are not to be disturbed or molested.

Again, this flowed from our unrelenting need and commitment to maintain our connection to the land and waters and to ensure a sustained relationship with our homeland for many generations to come.

In the 1800s, our people faced extreme pressure to open our homeland to settlement. The Crown told our people that they could not stop this threat and impressed upon us, our people, the need to open the southern portion of our homeland for this purpose.

Our people, in keeping with the terms of the Treaty of Niagara, insisted upon the continued use of the land and waters and the protection of their relationship to their homeland.

Under the Crown’s promise to protect those portions of our territory not open to settlement and the use of the land throughout the entire territory we entered into Treaty 45 ½, thereby opening up one and a half million acres of land for a settlement south of what today is Highway 21.

After only 18 years the Crown approached our people again, again telling us that they were powerless to stop the encroachment of settlers in our territory. They told us that they could not keep their promise to protect the northern portion of our homeland from settlement.

Our people once again insisted upon the continued use of the land and the protection of the relationship to the land.

Only under this condition as well as the Crown’s promise to get fair market value for all lands sold and to place the subsequent proceeds in trust for our use and benefit did our peoples consent to Treaty 72.

In our recent history we have twice been asked by the Crown to share our land in situations of duress on the basis of a promise that our whole territory will be protected for our use. Sadly, this has been a history of broken promises.

Our people have been in this territory since time immemorial and we’ll continue to be here forever.

We have a responsibility to protect our lands and waters of our territory and a responsibility to ensure that our people can continue to rely on the homeland to sustain themselves spiritually, culturally, physically and economically, not only for today but also far into the future.

Our identity, culture and our continued livelihood are completely dependent on the health of our territory. It is for this reason that our people have taken such extraordinary steps to protect the Anishinaabe and our rights within it.

We have fought for recognition of our rights in the courts. We have negotiated many protection agreements with governments. We have pushed for and sponsored scientific research throughout the territory to understand the impacts of industrialization so we may limit and repair the damage.

We have worked with Proponents to make sure that projects within our territory go ahead only if they can be carried out in a way that is protective and respectful of the territory and our people’s way of life within the territory.

And we have made tremendous efforts to ensure that the current project, OPG’s proposal to build this DGR, does not create new risks to our territory and our people.

As Chief Chegahno has said, the possibility of the DGR is of enormous significance to our people and our territory.

To fully understand why we need to go back to the early 1960s when the decision was first made to site a nuclear facility at Douglas Point in the heart of our territory. This decision was made without our consent. In fact, it was made without any involvement of our people.

Subsequent decisions to build and refurbish reactors at the site, again without our involvement, have made that the largest operating nuclear generation facility in the world.

Later in the 1970s, another critical decision was made to site what is now called the Western Waste Management Facility at the Bruce site, a decision that has resulted in all of Ontario’s low and intermediate level nuclear waste being transported through and stored in our territory.

Once again, these decisions were made without the involvement of our people. These historical decisions have led us where we are today. We have within our territory the largest nuclear site in the world and a large and growing nuclear waste management challenge. None of this has been of our own making.

Our people do not accept this history. We do not accept the decisions that were made that have led us here and we do not accept our historical exclusion from the decisions that have shaped our territory and our futures.

However, we do accept the responsibility to be part of the solution to the challenges we now face. In fact, we have demanded to be part of those solutions because our people will never again accept the critical decisions about our future will be made unilaterally by others and without the central involvement of our people. The old ways of doing business are over.

OPG is now proposing a solution for one part of the nuclear waste management issues facing our territory. They have said that they believe the DGR project can be carried out safely and that it is a good solution for the disposal of low and intermediate level nuclear waste in our territory.

Our people will take what OPG says very seriously. We will listen carefully to what we hear over the next few weeks and we will consider it fully. However, as we have told OPG and this Panel in our submissions, we cannot take it at face value or accept it uncritically.

Our people do not have the luxury of what ifs. We cannot easily tolerate potential impacts and risk. We cannot move away to some other place if our land is no longer able to sustain the identity, culture and the livelihood of our people.

We have serious and well-founded concerns that we do not yet know the full story of the DGR. We do not believe OPG, the CNSC, the Panel, or anyone else knows the whole story of the DGR or whether or not it’s good and a safe project.

We believe there are still many, many unanswered questions about the safety of the DGR and many potential harms and risks to our territory and our rights that must be fully understood and dealt with before such a project could ever go ahead as a solution for the challenges facing our territory.

It is for this reason that SON must test and challenge every aspect of the DGR. We need to do this to ensure the protection of the territory and our future and because we insist that the nuclear waste issues facing our territory must be dealt with in the best possible way and to the highest possible standards.

SON takes full responsibility to be part of this process and we will continue to be central participants in the testing and review of the DGR project and all processes that follow, but this is not our responsibility alone.

OPG has a fundamental role and responsibility to manage its nuclear waste in the safest and best way possible. OPG understands this obligation. And OPG, to its credit, also understands that the project it proposes to deal with these issues must be developed and carried out in a way that has the support of the Aboriginal people who could be affected.

OPG has acknowledged and committed that the SON communities must be part of this decision making process and must be supportive of the DGR project if it is to go ahead. But this is not a one-way street.

SON has also committed to work together with OPG to fully understand the DGR project and to achieve our ultimate goal, to deal with the nuclear waste issues in the best possible way for the health and safety of our territory, our people and our communities.

This Panel also has a central and critical role to play. From the very outset SON has demanded that the DGR project be reviewed at the highest standard under Canadian law.

In 2007, I stood before the Commissioners at a hearing in Kincardine to explain why SON required that the DGR project go to a full panel review rather than proceed by way of comprehensive study.

We met for countless hours with CNSC and CEAA representatives to make sure that this review be as comprehensive and as thorough as it could be, and that we’d be fully capable of identifying all potential impacts on our rights and interests.

And as you know this has become a key objective, these hearings and process, to take evidence on potential impacts of the project on our rights and interests so that this can become the basis of ongoing and future processes with the Crown and others to accommodate those impacts.

We are now at the beginning of these hearings. We have many, many questions and we continue to test and challenge the issues in the toughest way but also in a respectful way, because this is the way of our people and because we appreciate the difficult challenges we all face and the heavy obligations that fall on each and every one of us.

We trust and expect that all of us here will act with good and proper spirit, not to rush the process or to manage the issues or to win the day, but to fully act in the best interests of the land and waters and all the people who rely on these now and far into the future.

We must move ahead with humility and accept that we do not yet know all the answers. Still we should not be satisfied by half answers and incomplete understanding either. We must ask more questions rather than fewer. We should increase debate not curtail it. And we should always err on the side of caution.

The DGR project is a forever project. It will forever alter the landscape of this part of the world. It will become part of the cosmology and stories of my people. Every single child born to our people from this day forward will live with this in the heart of their home.

These are not decisions to be rushed or taken lightly. These are decisions of the most profound kind. History will judge each and every one of us how we acted in playing our parts in this process.

As the Chief of my people and representing the SON communities, I can say with confidence that we will strive to make the best possible decisions for the land and waters and for our future generations, and we will work tirelessly to make sure these decisions are carried out, and we trust that we will find willing partners here.


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