Editorial: Saugeen Ojibway Nation have stood firm for our water

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Sighs of relief could be heard echoing across the waters of the Great Lakes as members of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation (the Saugeen Ojibway Nation is comprised of the Chippewas of Saugeen First Nation and the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation) put their collective feet down and gave a convincing boot to the concept of a Deep Geological Repository (DGR) for low and intermediate nuclear waste being constructed mere feet from the shores of Lake Huron. Thanks to the overwhelming rejection of the DGR, Ontario Power Generation has backed off of locating the DGR beside the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station.

This has been a win for plain (and somewhat uncommon these days) sense. Despite assurances of the safety precautions planned for the facility, we find ourselves in full agreement with Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Glen Hare. There is no perfect safety when it comes to nuclear waste.

Those arrayed against locating the DGR on the shores of the Great Lakes are legion, so universal and consensual is the anathema directed at the concept, that it is hard to comprehend how the idea has remained in play for so long.

Of course the funds being supplied to potential “willing” hosts for the project have been substantial and it has therefore been arguably in the best interests of many elected officials to play along and take the lucre for their communities’ development—when the chips finally come to the pot, it is hard to imagine any community remaining “willing.”

The economic carrot held out to communities like the Saugeen Ojibway Nation have been substantial, both in short-term economic and community development terms as well as potential long-term economic benefits. To the credit of the First Nation community members they looked much farther down the road and concluded that water is indeed life and that future generations must be protected—even if that means foregoing immediate gratification.

Would that more communities and their elected officials look ahead seven and more generations when it comes to our environment and the health and well-being of our descendants.

This is by no means an Indigenous/non-Native divide. This is an issue upon which both communities can agree and work together. Water is life to everyone, as is the air and the land and it behooves us to step up to protect Mother Nature, even if that may mean slower economic growth and a lifestyle less focused on rabid consumption and despoiling of the commons.

There is little question that humanity’s best interests lie in adopting better conservation and stewardship of the commons. We must come to recognize that the water we drink, the land upon which we grow our food and the very air that we breath are finite and not inexhaustible resources.

These are hard lessons to learn. For the nearly the entirety of humanity’s existence we have generally been able to ignore our impact upon the environment and many of us do not want to accept those days are now over,  preferring to invest in the fairytale that the vast majority of the globe’s entire scientific community are engaged in some kind of liberal environmental hoax.

But it is not like the writing has not been on the wall for some time. The lessons of air pollution came to a fore at the dawn of the industrial revolution, with the deadly fogs of London literally killing people in the streets, lessons that China, India and other nations attempting to catch up to the industrialized West are also now learning the hard way.

We can no longer afford to bury our heads in the sand and ignore what Mother Nature has been telling us for centuries. It is past time to clean up our act and to start acting like adults instead of enabled and entitled children when it comes to the environment. It has become a favoured meme of those who do not wish to accept the hard truth to foist those pejorative labels on the youth clamouring for change today. But it seems those labels are more appropriately to apply to their parents and grandparents these days.

It is long past bedtime for the idea that the Earth and its resources are inexhaustible and that we can continue to toss our garbage into the street or a water body—and this is especially true of radioactive waste destined to remain a danger for years longer than humanity has been descended from the trees. Kicking our feet, sticking our fingers in our ears and wailing curses at those bringing that unwelcome message won’t suffice this time.

The last ditch and depressingly defeatist argument now being put forward that “the damage has been done and there is no point in trying” is to ignore the technological accomplishments of humanity over the past centuries. London’s fogs no longer kill, phosphates in our lakes and rivers are in steep decline, acid rain is no longer sterilizing our lakes and the ozone layer has begun to heal. 

We can do these things if we can overcome the forces of greed arrayed against humanity’s survival, set aside our counterproductive hubris and learn to grow up as species.

To that end we need look no further than the residents of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation.

Today we say chi-miigwetch, thank you and merci, for you have done us all an immeasurable service. Now if only we can continue to learn as we move forward to overcome the tragedy of the commons to create a brave new world for those who come after—seven generations and beyond.