Indigenous Environmental Justice speakers highlight pollution’s effects on health

The Faculty of Environmental Studies’ Indigenous Environmental Justice speaker series continued on March 22, with Shane Camastro and Lindsay Gray, members of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN), speaking about how industrial pollution on Indigenous lands has led to negative health impacts for Indigenous bodies.

With a network extending across Canada and the United States, “NYSHN’s work on reproductive rights and sexual health extends across Turtle Island,” said Camastro.

In the talk, entitled “Violence on the Land, Violence on our Bodies: Supporting Indigenous Feminist Land/Body Defenders,” the pair of speakers highlighted the recently released report and toolkit, ‘Violence on the Land, Violence on our Bodies,’ which was created to help Indigenous communities resist environmental violence caused by industry.

“It is important to think about what exactly environmental violence is,” said Camastro. The definition NYSHN works with, he explained, is the “disproportionate and often devastating impacts that the conscious and deliberate proliferation of environmental toxins and industrial development have on Indigenous women, children and future generations, without regard from states and corporations.”

Gray also spoke to the real health impacts caused by the environmental extraction industry in her home community of Aamjiwnaang First Nation, near Sarnia, Ont.

“Eight hundred and fifty people live in my community, but we see an almost 40 per cent miscarriage rate among women in the community,” she said.

In recounting how their childhood experiences growing up in Aamjiwnaang altered their understanding of nature, Gray said, she used to think the smokestacks in Sarnia were cloud-makers and she argued with her science teacher about where clouds come from.

“We would line up for puffers because we couldn’t breathe,” said Gray.

Gray’s experiences highlight the need for a “toolkit [that] centres the experiences and resistance efforts of Indigenous women and young people in order to expose and curtail the impacts of extractive industries on their communities and lands.”

As Camastro explained, the toolkit includes stats, tools for wellness and self care, and an overview of evidence of the impacts of industrial development.

The pair hopes the toolkit can serve as an important resource for marginalized people in the Indigenous community, including youth, queer and two-spirited peoples.

Join the Indigenous Environmental Justice Speaker Series for its final talk, “Longhouse to Greenhouse: An Emerging Food System at Six Nations” with guest speaker Adrianne Lickers, on April 12 from 12:30 to 1:45pm in HNES 140.

Story supplied by Victor Bruzzone