Dorothee Schreiber, Orville Commanda, Willie Pine, Emma Measigie, Tracy Fraser, Eric Crane holding baby Kodiak, Brian Commanda, and Vicki from MPP Michael Mantha's office.  Sitting from left: Ray Owl, Susan Roy and Bruce McLeod.

Dorothee Schreiber, Orville Commanda, Willie Pine, Emma Measigie, Tracy Fraser, Eric Crane holding baby Kodiak, Brian Commanda, and Vicki from MPP Michael Mantha’s office. Sitting from left: Ray Owl, Susan Roy and Bruce McLeod.

By Leslie Knibbs

MISSISSAUGA #8 FN – In their ongoing battle to end the spraying of glyphosate in northern Ontario forests, the TEK Elders met in Mississaugi First Nation on May 26 to plan their next step in their action.

In their fight, these wise and seasoned warhorses are plodding into the fray with planned demonstrations, and are submitting a Position Paper to Health Canada asserting indigenous science is part of oral traditions as set down in treaty rights, and, admissible as evidence in deciding the safety of glyphosate.  According to the TEK Group, “the courts have affirmed that oral traditions are part of the Treaty relationship that the Crown is legally obligated to honour and uphold.  Furthermore, in Delgamuukw {1997} vs. the Crown, the Supreme Court of Canada found that rules of evidence must be adapted so that oral testimonies can be placed on equal footing with other kinds of evidence.”

Elders Ray Owl of Sagamok, Willie Pine from Mississaugi, Emma Meawasige from Serpent River and others including activists from “Idle No More” attended the meeting.  With the pressure of a June 12 deadline for comments in the current mandatory reevaluation regarding use of glyphosate {regulated by the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) of Health Canada}, TEK group’s Position Paper is meant to influence the reevaluation decision to come this year.  In an earlier email from PMRA in response to TEK concerns, elders were told the reevaluation will look at scientific evidence as well as to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the United States for input when making their final decision on the chemical’s safety.

Elders spoke at the meeting expressing deep concerns and commitment to the cause.  Citing countries where the chemical is banned because of health and environmental concerns, including Germany, France, and most recently Bermuda, along with the province of Quebec, TEK made it clear there are non-chemical alternatives such as those used in Quebec where chemical herbicides have been banned since 2001.  With continued use of toxic chemicals such as 2,4-D and glyphosate, by forestry companies such as Domtar, Tembec and others, profits seemingly are trumping environmental concerns and lessons from the past according to the TEK group.

Lessons from the past

Thirty-six years ago, in 1979 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suspended most uses of the weed killer 2,4,5-T and issued a notice of intent to ban the substance after the agency received complaints from western Oregon (a heavily forested area much like northern Ontario) of a rise in the miscarriage rate in areas sprayed with the herbicide. In March the same year after hearings on the proposed ban had been going on for a year, the EPA postponed further hearings while it conducted negotiations with Dow Chemical Company and other manufacturers of the chemical 2,4,5-T.  The weed killer contains traces of dioxin, a poison so powerful that three ounces could kill about 1 million people.

A sacred responsibility

Forestry companies consider aerial application of herbicides as their primary tool for vegetation management; herbicides are applied directly over top of headwaters feeding lakes, streams and rivers in Ontario.  According to Sue Chiblow, Environmental Coordinator at the 34th All Ontario Chiefs Conference, “Herbicides are not used because of a lack of alternatives, but because it is the most cost efficient tool to achieve the desired results.”  Elder Raymond Owl, a founding member of TEK said when referring to aerial spraying, “It must stop, it must be canceled, we are the caretakers of Mother Earth that was given to us by the Creator so that we may continue to live as Anishinabek people for generations to come.  We have never relinquished these sacred responsibilities.”

The meeting resulted in Elders unanimously agreeing to submit a TEK Position Paper along with the required “Comment Form” to the PMRA for consideration during the reevaluation process.  Directions from the PMRA state, “A scientifically-based approach will be applied in making a final decision on glyphosate.   In reply, the TEK group maintains in their Position Paper, “We hold expert Indigenous scientific knowledge of our traditional territories.  Indigenous science focuses on ecological relationships and includes a sophisticated understanding of the behaviour of environmental contaminants.  We believe that glyphosate and the additives that enhance its potency are harming the health and well-being of the water, soil, birds, fish, amphibians, invertebrates, humans and other mammals.”

With assistance from Dorothee Schreiber, an environmental scientist from Montreal and Susan Ray, a teacher at Waterloo University, the TEK group has passed on a detailed Position Paper outlining their case to MP Carol Hughes for presentation to Health Canada prior to the June 12 deadline.  Signed petitions supporting the elders will accompany the Position Paper.  A representative from MPP Michael Mantha’s office, Grant Buck will present the paper to Mantha for presentation in the Legislature at a future date.

In the past, “First Nations have made known their protest on aerial spraying and have not been heard, nor has any action been taken regarding environmental concerns from any level of government,” say Elders Willie Pine and Ray Owl in a letter to the PMRA.  Pine and Owl requested that the PMRA consent to a meeting on their home turf, asking “for a planned hearing in our traditional territory of Mississauga First Nation in order that participating elders have the opportunity to offer three-day oral testimony on their knowledge of the environment.”  The Elders’ demands are simple and acceptable under existing treaty relationships – all they are asking for is meaningful dialogue and consultation before any decision is made on the use of glyphosate, not too much to ask for the First People according to MP Carol Hughes and MPP Michael Mantha’s  office who are both assisting the elders.

A verse from “In Honour of the Trees”, a poem written a few years ago by one of the attending Elders paid homage to the sacred forests.  Serpent River First Nation (SRFN) Poet Lauriate, Emma Meawasige expressed the intrinsic treasures found in of our woodlands,

“From roots to bark for medicinal

To treat the lonely and the sick

Comforts too, when we sleep, sit and eat

Many products are from the wondrous trees

To make us happy and smile with glee”

Meawasige spoke simply and clearly outlining concerns about the devastation resulting from aerial spraying of chemicals.  She spoke from the heart of the need to put a stop to aerial spraying stating, “We have to think of our future generations, how long will it be before we have no fresh water to drink.  Our medicinal plants are being affected.”

With the goal of having meaningful dialogue and a complete and thorough hearing of their concerns through oral testimonies, which, according to a decision from the Supreme Court of Canada can be placed on an equal footing with all other kinds of evidence, including scientific evidence, the TEK Elders group uphold their role as “caretakers of Mother Earth”.