Blog Post

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TEK Elder Raymond Owl Down The Westbranch Road

– June 2019

Raymond Owl tours the Jack Pine plantations being developed within the North Shore Ontario area.

Our Position on the Proposed Re-evaluation Decision for Glyphosate

As the TEK (Traditional Ecological Knowledge) Elders of the North Shore of Lake Huron, we hold expert Indigenous scientific knowledge of our traditional territories.  Indigenous science focuses on ecological relationships and includes a sophisticated understanding of the behaviour of environmental contaminants.  We believe that glyphosate and the additives that enhance its potency are harming the health and well-being of the water, soil, birds, plants, fish, amphibians, invertebrates, humans and other mammals.

Infringement of Treaty rights by aerial spraying of glyphosate, and the role of oral evidence

We are dependent socially, economically, spiritually, and culturally on the health of the forest, including the wildlife, plants, water, and soil.  In many areas, we cannot trust that the medicines and foods we harvest are clean and uncontaminated.  The aerial spraying of glyphosate violates our Treaty rights to the water and to hunt, fish, and gather berries and plant medicines in our traditional territories.  Treaty rights are recognized and affirmed in section 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982.  We are the caretakers of the lands and waters that were given to us by the Creator so that we may continue to live as Anishinabek people for generations to come.  We have never relinquished these sacred responsibilities.

The Robinson-Huron Treaties were concluded on the basis of Anishinabek law and diplomatic protocols which are embedded in spiritual traditions and the oral testimonies flowing from these traditions.  Indigenous science is part of an oral tradition.  In numerous cases, the courts have affirmed that oral traditions are part of the Treaty relationship that the Crown is legally obligated to honour and uphold.  Furthermore, in Delgamuukw [1997], the Supreme Court of Canada found that rules of evidence must be adapted so that oral testimonies can be placed on equal footing with other kinds of evidence.

The duty to consult with Treaty First Nations cannot be satisfied by public consultation.

The duty to consult is a constitutional obligation owed only to First Nations people.  It cannot be satisfied by public consultation of the sort being carried out by Health Canada in its ongoing re-evaluation of glyphosate safety.  Following the Supreme Court of Canada, consultation must aim to substantially address our concerns and minimize adverse effects on Aboriginal rights.  Any infringements of our Treaty rights must be necessary for achieving compelling and substantial objectives that further the goal of reconciliation.  Aerial spraying with glyphosate may be less expensive than its non-chemical alternatives, but it is unnecessary, and it violates our Treaty rights.  The forestry industry is currently not required to internalize the costs of environmental damage and loss of Treaty rights.

The risks of glyphosate-based herbicides are known to Indigenous science (traditional ecological knowledge).

Health Canada’s proposed re-evaluation decision for glyphosate is based on dietary and occupational exposures that do not correspond with Anishinabek use of the territories for food, medicine, and water.  Furthermore, laboratory toxicology studies are based on reference values that do not conform to our own standards of risk, and that do not take into account the cumulative effects of the environmental contaminants to which we are exposed.  We are concerned about the combined toxicity of glyphosate and the surfactants, solvents, and other additives designed to increase the chemical potency of the active ingredient glyphosate.  In the weeks and months that they persist in the environment, glyphosate-containing herbicides and their derivatives can do significant damage to humans and non-humans. We know this from first-hand knowledge of our territories and the ecological relationships of which we are a part.

In the spirit of renewing the Treaty relationship, we respectfully request to meet with the Crown – in the matter at hand, represented by Health Canada — in a forum that will allow for meaningful dialogue and a complete and thorough hearing of our concerns.