Patty Hajdu, Minister of Indigenous Services, says the First Nations Clean Water Act will be “another tool” for nations to curb environmental racism and protect their waters.

Also known as Bill C-61, the bill proposes a new water commission, run by First Nations and funded by Ottawa. The commission will increase capacity to help First Nations monitor their water for pollution, Hajdu said.

The bill will also mandate that Ottawa and the provinces and territories ensure stronger protections for bodies of water that feed into First Nations’ lands and that First Nations have the same rights to quality of water as Canadian municipalities, Hajdu explained.

“And of course, that is still not the case in many First Nations in this country,” she added.

But Hajdu said Conservative conduct in the House over “the entire legislative process” is stalling the bill’s progress. Though she hopes to steer the bill into the committee process by the end of the June sitting period, Ottawa is still waiting for “all-party collaboration,” she said.

“It's obstruction of things that deeply matter,” Hajdu said.

Last week, a study was released showing the mercury pollution in Grassy Narrows First Nation that dates back decades has been worsening. The mercury was initially dumped into the Wabigoon River by Dryden Chemicals Ltd.

But in recent years, sulfur and organic compound discharge from the Dryden Fibre Canada mill has created a dangerous chemical reaction in the river, resulting in high levels of methylmercury, researchers from Western University said last Thursday.

The levels of methylmercury — the most toxic form of mercury, known to cause neurological issues, birth defects and more — in the river's fish may be twice as high as they would be without the mill discharge, the researchers said.

Bill C-61, the First Nation’s water bill, proposes a First nation water commission, run by First Nations and funded by Ottawa. The comission will increase capacity to help First Nations monitor their water for pollution, Hajdu said. #CanPoli

“Trudeau has shown what he thinks about the community of Grassy Narrows through his procrastination and his words,” said Eric Melillo, Conservative MP for Kenora, the riding in which the First Nation resides. “He is not worth the cost, delays, and inaction.”

However, Hajdu called out Melillo for not asking questions about Grassy Narrows last week in the Indigenous and Northern Affairs committee.

“We've got Conservative MPs that are essentially standing up in the house asserting the rights of corporations to poison Indigenous Peoples,” she said. “I think they are completely wrong.”

“It’s emotional for me: I live on the side of a lake, I understand the connection that people have to water,” Hajdu, who represents Thunder Bay on the shores of Lake Superior, said.

Grassy Narrows is the second instance of environmental racism to make headlines this spring. In April, heavy benzene pollution made members of Aamjiwnaang First Nation near Sarnia, Ont. fall ill.

Those instances speak to a larger trend. In 2022, a massive oilsands tailings leak seeped into the waterways used by the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Mikisew Cree First Nation. It wasn’t until February 2023 that the Alberta Energy Regulator warned the First Nations about the leak, while community harvesters continued to hunt and fish for the nine months it went unreported.

“The real tragedy of places like Grassy, Aamjiwnaang and the Athabasca region is that people didn’t know they were being poisoned,” Hajdu said.

Bill C-61 is currently not the only legislation in the House intended to combat Canada’s continued legacy of environmental racism.

Green leader Elizabeth May currently has a private members bill that seeks to address environmental racism. Bill C-226 is one Senate vote away from becoming law. May said it’s unclear when the vote will be held, but the bill is expected to pass.

Once passed, the bill will require the federal government to examine the links between race, socio-economic status and environmental risk as well as compel the environment and climate change minister to develop a national strategy to address the harms caused by environmental racism.

May hopes the passage of C-226 will “result in a meaningful change” to push beyond just talking about the issue. The bill will clarify the responsibility of governments to protect marginalized, racialized and Indigenous communities.

with files from with files from the Canadian Press & Natasha Bulowski

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

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From the former Minister of Health who tried to increase the use of glysophate and other agricultural chemicals and now supports the establishment of an underground nuclear dump upstream from Grassy Narrows and other communities throughout the Treaty Three watershed which has more surface water than Lake Ontario. With an environmental friend like this the First nations hardly need enemies.

Canada does not now, never has, committed genocide against First Nations people.

And if you believe that, I've got another one for you.

Grassy Narrows has been a human rights, health, environmental crime since the mid 70s at least.
The mill of the day walked away scot-free from their unbelievable poisoning of the water and soil that the First Nations had depended on for generations--and, tragically, still does.
The provincial government of the day let them.

NOTHING substantive, NOTHING, has been done since then, by any government or any level of government, to even address this crime--let alone rectify it.

Band-aids. A Healing Lodge. Some funding for people crippled by Minimata disease. Yadda yadda.

They're way up in a corner of Northwest Ontario, far from any urban (read "white") concentration of population, so, well, you know--probably not enough votes to worry about why.

Why this hasn't gone international, as a charge of genocide against Canada, escapes me.

No more.

DO IT NOW.

I don't care who's blocking it, or why, or who has other issues laid to their account.

DO IT NOW.

I am so ashamed of my country for this--and have been since I first learned about it, in the 70s.