Anishinaabe activist Vanessa Gray has been actively fighting environmental degradation in her community – the Aamjiwnaang reserve in the so-called “Chemical Valley” near Sarnia, Ontario, which is the site of heavy petrochemical production and refinement.
As part of the Indigenous Environmental Justice (IEJ) Speaker Series, Gray delivered a talk on Feb. 15 at York University to raise awareness about the environmental and public health damage the petrochemical industry has been perpetrating on her community and communities across Canada.
Historically, toxic chemical plants and pipelines have disproportionately been constructed near and through socio-economically disadvantaged communities across Canada.
“Environmental racism is an everyday reality lived by Indigenous communities and communities of color across Canada,” said Gray.
She continued to explain there are more than 60 high-emitting chemical facilities within 50 kilometers of her community. The full extent of the health impacts are not known; however, the female population in the Aamjiwnaang reserve have been experiencing high rates of miscarriage and stillbirth, with 39 per cent of women experiencing at least one miscarriage in their lifetime.
“Bodies living in an environment will reflect how that corresponding environment is treated,” sad Gray.
Given these health and environmental consequences, she said, the Prime Minister’s apparent pro-pipeline approach has been disappointing.
“Trudeau is not doing us any favors by approving the Kinder Morgan pipeline,” she said.
Currently, pipeline projects in Canada do not legally require the consent of Indigenous peoples. According to Gray, an obvious change would be for the Trudeau government to ensure mandatory public consent for these projects.
Gray’s activist approach to helping her community does not include waiting for government policy to change. On Dec. 21, 2015, Gray, along with two other activists, shut down the Line 9 Enbridge pipeline valve. They were arrested with the charges ultimately being dropped.
“I did it knowing that Line 9 is eventually going to rupture and turning it off makes it safer than it being on,” she said, referencing the storied history of the petrochemical industry and ruptured pipelines.
She hopes her story will help Canadians realize that “people are very comfortable with their lives right now and don’t realize it is not sustainable. This is the type of action that needs to happen for change to happen… we need to stop it and put our bodies on the line,” she said.
The IEJ Speaker series continues on March 22 with representatives from the Native Youth Sexual Health Network presenting “Violence on the Land, Violence on our Bodies: Supporting Indigenous Feminist Land/Body Defenders”. Full details of all upcoming IEJ events are listed below and on the project’s website.
Native Youth Sexual Health Network
“Violence on the Land, Violence on Our Bodies: Supporting Indigenous Feminist Land/Body Defenders”
Date: Wednesday, March 22
Location: HNES 141
Time: 1 to 2:15pm
Date: Wednesday, April 12
Location: HNES 141
Time: 12:30 to 1:45pm