Onkwehonwe Week In Review: June 29 2016

Fort McMurray hit with wasp swarms and flooding following wildfires

More than 80, 000 residents from the Northern Alberta community of Fort McMurray were forced out of their homes under the threat of a wildfire that ravaged the territory. It’s only been recently that residents have started to return.

More than 47 millimetres of rain fell on the land in the past weeks. Alberta Agriculture and Forestry said, “rain has increased the hazardous conditions within the Horse River Wild.” They warned people to stay away from burned areas because of the possibility of trees breaking.

Residents don’t seem to be very worried. “We’ve had rain like this before,” said Thomas Jackson, “but I haven’t seen flooding like that since 2013 when we had that last major flood up here,” referring to the Hangingstone River that flooded the community a few years back. “It’s not at that level yet, but I haven’t seen the sewers. The water is getting pretty high up to the top of people’s bumpers.”

“The rain was good at first because everybody was hoping for rain and now I think it’s going to start worrying people again, I mean, they come back from being evacuated, and now they have something else to deal with,” Jackson continued.

But the flooding isn’t the only concern that is raising eyebrows for Fort McMurray residents.  Black masses of wasps, hornets and stinging insects have swarmed the community, as well.  Social media was abuzz with close encounters and extermination tips. Nests have popped up in abandoned homes, on porches and patios.

Peter Heule, entomologist with the Royal Alberta Museum, said that stinging insects were lured in by the temporary emptiness of the town. “It’s been weeks, where the wasps could build and do whatever they want to do. So, the wasps have been building nests because this is the time of year that they’re naturally doing that.”

Stinging insects have been plentiful across Alberta because of the hot and dry conditions. “I don’t see that it’s related to the wildfire as much as it’s related to the evacuation,” said Heule.


First Nations Chiefs lobby Ottawa to stop pipeline plans

Last month, the National Energy Board (NEB) recommended approval of Kinder Morgan’s plan to run a pipeline alongside the Trans Mountain pipeline through Alberta and British Columbia, as long as 157 conditions are met. The federal government is expected to make its final decision in December.

Chiefs of the North Shore’s Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish nations, alongside another Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson were in Ottawa to voice their opposition. Chief Ian Campbell, Squamish nation expressed “vehement opposition to the Kinder Morgan expansion plan. The Squamish are “completely unsatisfied with the level of engagement” shown by the federal government. The three-person panel appointed by Ottawa does little to change that. If the federal government approves the Kinder Morgan expansion project, Chief Campbell let them know, “We will use every opportunity to challenge this project.” Campbell also pointed out how the federal government’s language has changed since election. “Now we need to see tangible results and the actions that go along with that.”

Chief Maureen Thomas of the Tsleil-Waututh voiced the need to remain mindful of the environmental risks to the people and the land in the Lower Mainland. “We can’t assume somebody is going to look after us.” Indigenous world views often place responsibility to the coming faces, the land and water at the forefront of our responsibilities.

North Burnaby Seymour MO Terry Beech said that, “Most people who talk to me, it’s the number one topic I get emails for and meeting requests for.”


CAMH Toronto opens sweat lodge for patients

On June 23, 2016, the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health celebrated the opening of their sweat lodge and medicine gardens. CAMH is the first hospital in Ontario to implement ceremony into the healing process for its patients.

The sweat lodge was built from 35 maple and poplar saplings that were harvested from Six Nations of the Grand River territory. The lodge was built by a team of 20 staff and volunteers using the traditional technique of arching the poles by bending them over their backs.

Renee Linklater, Director of Aboriginal Engagement and Outreach, said that the cultural healing practice of using the land and the space in a culturally appropriate way is very important to CAMH’s patients. It is “moving forward in the health care system and having services that are culturally relevant.”

“We are at a point in time when Canadians are much more aware of the historical trauma experienced by Aboriginal peoples,” said Linklater. “We also need to recognize that part of that trauma is the loss of culture. That is why it is so important to offer services that are culturally relevant and appropriate.”

The project was led by Elder and Aboriginal Services Provider, Diane Longboat. “It’s important that clients are mentally and spiritually ready for the Sweat ceremony and that they are engaged in recovery that includes cultural knowledge. There is deep and emotional and psychological healing when clients release the negative patterns and begin to understand their gifts — the whole person they are meant to be.”


Grassy Narrows supporters dump “mysterious liquid” outside Ontario legislature

Six protesters wearing protective coveralls and surgical masks brought four barrels, with the skull and crossbones warning, to the front lawn of Ontario legislature. Although the protesters would not disclose what the material was, Syed Hussan, spokesperson for the action said, “It definitely looks a lot like mercury, but I can’t tell you. If this was in Grassy Narrows, the government would take 40 years to identify it and clean it up.”

Grassy Narrows has suffered from mercury poisoning since the Dryden Chemical Co. dumped 9,000 kilograms of mercury in the Wabigoon and English River systems in the 1960s. Mercury contamination has caused many illnesses and deaths in the community.

Security blocked legislature’s main doors and evacuated the south lawn of tourists, while hazardous materials crews tried to figure out what the substance was. Chrissy Swain, Grassy Narrows resident, said that demonstrations like this are important. It sends a “clear message that you know how important people in Toronto are to them but here we are. There are over 1,000 people that live in Grassy Narrows, so how come we’re not as important as those people?”

The protesters want Ontario to clean up the river system around the community. Hussan said that the protesters wanted people in downtown Toronto to feel the worry that Grassy Narrows residents have lived with for decades. “We’re absolutely trying to bring a slight amount of fear that the people of Grassy Narrows feel everyday into this community to show the injustice and to say that just like this spill will be cleaned up, we want the river system to be cleaned too.”

All six protesters were charged with one count of mischief.

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