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Four Algonquin chiefs spoke out on Tuesday, calling out the government and its private-sector contractor over what they say are inadequate consultations over a planned nuclear waste storage facility.

Last year, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) paused its decision to move ahead with the planned waste facility, located at the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories in Chalk River, Ont. The site is 180 kilometres north of Ottawa and sits within a kilometre of the Ottawa River, otherwise known as the Kichi Sibi in Algonquin.

The pause was intended to give more time for consultations with Kebaowek First Nation and Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, whose traditional territories circle the Ottawa River on both sides of Quebec and Ontario.

“It's a huge victory for us,” Coun. Justin Roy of Kebaowek First Nation told Canada’s National Observer at the time.

Algonquin leaders walk into a press conference Tuesday. The leadership is slamming the federal government and its private partner for their plans to construct a nuclear waste facility beside the Ottawa River. Photo by Matteo Cimellaro / Canada's National Observer

But now, Algonquin leaders are slamming the CNSC for failing to give adequate time for meaningful consultation. The process only lasted six months, which the leaders argued is a short time frame given the challenges of negotiating funding agreements for Indigenous-led environmental assessments.

Still, the Algonquin-led assessment found the proximity to the Ottawa River, which supplies water to millions, including Algonquins, a major red flag. The river was given status of a Canadian Heritage River by Ontario and Quebec and it holds the utmost spiritual and historical importance for the Algonquin nation.

The assessment also pointed to potential risks to Indigenous harvesting rights and the environment, including contamination concerns to local moose, migratory birds and fish.

There are also concerns about tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen, leaching from the nuclear waste into the Ottawa River, Chief Lance Haymond of Kebaowek First Nation said.

Algonquin leaders are slamming the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for failing to give adequate time for meaningful consultation. #FreePriorAndInformedConsent #UNDRIP #Reconciliation

“We need to wake up and recognize what a danger Chalk River poses not only to the Algonquin people but to all Canadians, especially those living in the Ottawa-Gatineau area,” he added.

At the press conference, Haymond was flanked by Dylan Whiteduck, chief of Kitigan Zibi, and grand chiefs Savanna McGregor and Lisa Robinson, who are leaders of the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council and Algonquin Nation Secretariat, respectively.

Elizabeth May, co-leader of the federal Green Party, sponsored the press conference. In brief comments, she pointed to the primary shareholder of the company that manages Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, criticizing the decision to build the facility so close to the Ottawa River.

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories is a subsidiary of the Crown corporation Atomic Energy Limited Corporation, but it is operated under contract by the Canadian National Energy Alliance, a private-sector consortium led primarily by SNC-Lavalin. The Canadian National Energy Alliance is responsible for the daily operations of the nuclear laboratories, as well as the decommissioning and management of nuclear waste from the facilities, according to the SNC-Lavalin website.

“I don't think we had in mind that SNC-Lavalin would once again get its way,” she said, alluding to the company’s role in a scandal that rocked the federal government four years ago.

Green Party co-leader Elizabeth May called out SNC-Lavalin for its role in the proposed nuclear waste facility near the Ottawa River. Photo by Matteo Cimellaro / Canada's National Observer

The Algonquin leaders are also calling foul on the consultation process for a divide-and-conquer strategy of picking which Algonquin nations to consult with, which Haymond calls a “continuation of colonialism.” Pikwakanagan First Nation signed a long-term relationship agreement with Canadian Nuclear Laboratories on June 9.

“It's a First Nation who seemed to have forgotten their responsibilities and priorities as protectors of the land, protectors of the water,” he said.

Haymond notes Pikwakanagan was given years of consultation through the controversial organization Algonquins of Ontario, which local Algonquins have accused of dividing the nation and giving free passes to false Indigenous identity claims. The organization even named a building in Algonquin at the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories site.

An official hearing for the near-surface nuclear waste facility is scheduled for Aug. 10.

“We've been here for millennia, the Algonquin nation and our people,” Chief Whiteduck said.

“We're still here, and we're gonna be here for another 1,000 years. We’re hoping to deal with these contaminants that will be poured into our river.”

— With files from Natasha Bulowski

Matteo Cimellaro / Canada’s National Observer / Local Journalism Initiative

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Was there no comment from the project side? Do the engineers want to defend their facility as safe?

'The process only lasted six months, which the leaders argued is a short time frame'

6 mo sounds like plenty of time. Is there evidence of significant leaks from other nuclear waste facilities around the world?