A haven for dumping

Outdated federal regulations make Indian reserves in Canada vulnerable to waste dumping from sly and better-off surrounding communities

Published: Monday 28 February 1994

THE SIX Nations native reserve in Ontario, Canada, has been reduced to an ugly waste dump, according to Multinational Monitor. Situated close to the industrial heartland of the country, the reserve is susceptible to refuse from neighbouring communities.

Industrialists can afford to take such liberties because Indian lands are governed by the federal government, which regulates waste disposal through a set of outdated federal provisions. "We do not hide that the regulations we have here are weak," confessed Michel Blondin, implementation manager at the Indian Affairs' Environmental Directorate.

However, the problems faced by the Six Nations run far deeper. The companies transporting their waste to the Six Nations hire local people to do their dirty work for them. For the natives, the constant flow of waste provides a ready supplement to a small income.

It is more alarming that some of the reserve governments, dirt poor and getting poorer, have joined hands with the "dumpers". Some have even sought out waste management contracts in the hope of inviting capital and jobs.

Typical example
A typical example of this is an incinerator project to be built at the Sumas reserve in British Columbia. In 1992, Bennett Remediation Services of Canada approved a proposal for the $4-million incinerator project, to be headed by Indian Larry Ned, general manager of the native-run Sumas Clay Products' brick factory.

The federal government supported the project on the grounds that it had the potential to provide employment to poverty stricken reserve residents. But the people of the nearby communities fought hard to ban incinerator projects in their own area and were not ready to put up with smoke floating out of the reserve.

Environmentalists claim that Bennett had "specifically chosen Indian land to avoid municipal by-laws". Heated debates followed and the company swore that the incinerator was not a health threat. However, Bennett backed off in the end, when too many complications set in.

The issue of waste dumping on reserves will, nevertheless, be raised again as the native people wrest greater autonomy from the federal government. And the environmentalists and developers seem to have girded up for a long fight.

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