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The battle by Indigenous Canadians against the uranium industry

the National Academies of Sciences have found conclusively that any exposure to ionizing radiation will increase the risks of developing cancer.

Calls for baseline and epidemiological health studies on the impacts of uranium mining and milling on nearby communities have gone unanswered by both government and industry since the 1970s. 

nuke-indigenousIndigenous Canadians Are Fighting the Uranium Mining Industry, VICE February 11, 2015 by Michael Toledano On November 22, 2014, a small group of Dene trappers called the Northern Trappers Alliance set up a checkpoint on Saskatchewan’s Highway 955, allowing locals to pass while blockading the industrial traffic of tar sands and uranium exploration companies. On December 1, officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police descended on the site with an injunction from the province and forcibly dismantled the blockade.

Eighty days later, the trappers remain camped on the side of the highway in weather that has routinely dipped below -40 C. They are constructing a permanent cabin on the site that will be a meeting place for Dene people and northern land defenders.

“We want industry to get the hell out of here and stop this killing,” said Don Montgrand, who has been at the encampment since day one and was named as one of its leaders on the police injunction. “We want this industry to get the hell out before we lose any more people here. We lose kids, adults, teenagers.”

“They’re willing to stay as long as it takes to get the point across that any of this kind of development is not going to be welcomed,” said Candyce Paul, the alliance’s spokesperson and a member of the anti-nuclear Committee for the Future Generations. “It’s indefinite.”

“We don’t want to become a sacrifice zone. That’s where we see ourselves heading.”

The trappers say an unprecedented rise in cancer is the legacy of contamination from nearby uranium mines. With significant tar sands and uranium deposits in their area, the trappers are developing a long-term strategy to halt the industrial growth threatening to deform their surroundings and scare away the wildlife they depend on for food, income, and culture.

About an hour north of the alliance’s location, a recent discovery by Fission Uranium Corp. could lead to the development of one of the world’s largest high-grade uranium mines.

Further north, abandoned and decommissioned uranium mines already host millions of tons of radioactive dust (also known as tailings) that must be isolated from the surrounding environment for millennia, while no cleanup plans exist for the legacy of severe and widespread watershed contamination that is synonymous with Uranium City, Saskatchewan. To the east, “an integrated uranium corridor spreading over 250 kilometers” hosts the largest high-grade uranium mines and mills in the world, with their own stockpiles of radioactive tailings and a decades-long history of radioactive spills…….

The province is looking to indigenous lands in the north for new bitumen and mineral mines, a high-level nuclear waste dump site, and the construction of nuclear reactors to encourage “environmentally responsible” tar sands extraction by exporting energy to Alberta.

“We know the government really doesn’t care about the northern people. They would rather see us move out of our region,” Paul said. “We’re in the way.”
……… More than 85 percent of northern Saskatchewan residents are aboriginal, while 95 percent are indigenous in the trappers’ remote area. Most people speak Dene, often as a first language……..

From diverse communities in BC, Alberta, the Northwest Territories, and Manitoba, aboriginal people brought similar stories of colonization, industrial growth, and ecological devastation spreading hand-in-hand………..

The Saskatchewan government differentiates between industrial exploration and development, and does not consult with aboriginal people or groups until full-scale mines are planned. In the exploration phase of projects, “consultation” has mainly consisted of advertisements, radio announcements, and an open house where eight corporations presented concurrently about their (often already in-progress) operations. Regional politicians note that more consultation will occur when a mining project is officially proposed.

Candyce Paul summarized the typical progression: “They’re up there for a few years, and then they tell people that they’re up there.”

While the province agreed to meet the Northern Trappers Alliance, they would not meet under the alliance’s terms.

“We wanted the government to come and meet only on the land, and not behind closed doors. What we had actually said was, so that earth could hear their lies,” said Paul. “More truth, more honesty, will come out on the land than behind closed doors.”

The roots of this distrust date back decades, if not centuries……..

2005 study found moose near uranium mines had elevated levels of radionuclides in their edible tissues; Chief Ted Clark says locals frequently hunt moose near the old mine.

“Many people have been getting sick… it’s a concern even amongst the young people. In a three month period six people died in the community of cancer, and these are not really old people—like people in their 50s, people that have worked in the mines,” said Paul. “A high rate of the people who worked in the Cluff Lake mine are no longer with us.”…….

the National Academies of Sciences have found conclusively that any exposure to ionizing radiation will increase the risks of developing cancer.

Broadly, government and industry maintain that the land, water, air, and traditional foods surrounding uranium mines are not adversely affected by development. However, a Pembina report notes that “the environment and biota in the vicinity of uranium mines has been contaminated with radionuclides, particularly via windblown dust from tailings sites,” and identifies “significant potential increases in cancer risks to humans from the consumption of caribou in the vicinity of uranium mines.”

Calls for baseline and epidemiological health studies on the impacts of uranium mining and milling on nearby communities have gone unanswered by both government and industry since the 1970s. Author Jim Harding notes in a recorded lecture: “There is still no baseline data, which is the first step in any credible social or health impact research. Industry continues to be allowed to operate in the dark without any fundamental ecological or legal accountability.”

“For us to look at it on a quantitative level, we have no choice but to experience fatalities on a very small group of people,” said Susnaghe Neneh, Paul’s partner.

“Prior to the openings of the mines it was a rare, rare occasion when somebody got cancer and died from it. This is what the Elders in all of our communities are saying—there was no cancer. It was maybe once in a blue moon somebody would get that,” Paul said. “This kind of an economy comes with its hazards and a shortened life span is one of them……..


February 13, 2015 - Posted by | Canada, indigenous issues

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