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Indigenous delegates say they are left out of key talks at plastics conference


Canadian Indigenous delegates at a United Nations conference that aims to write a global treaty to curb plastic pollution say they are being left out of key talks while the oil and gas industry is sitting at the negotiating table.

Ottawa is playing host to delegates from 174 countries this week for the penultimate session of the Intergovernmental Negotiation Committee on Plastic Pollution, INC-4. This conference is working toward developing an international, legally binding plastics treaty by the end of 2024 at the fifth and final round of negotiations in South Korea.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Suzanne Smoke, a representative of the Society of Native Nations, said that First Nations communities are often the most affected by plastic pollution and they should not be left out of the negotiations.

“This treaty is doomed to fail without the voices of Indigenous people centred at the forefront,” she said, complaining that oil and gas producers are part of the negotiations on a global plastic treaty.

“By having industry welcome into these spaces while excluding our voices of our knowledge keepers is part of the continued genocide,” she said.

Ms. Smoke was joined by Indigenous delegates from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Southwestern Ontario, who discussed the health impacts on their community as a result of having a plastic producer nearby and the importance of Indigenous perspectives in these negotiations.

CJ Smith-White, a councillor for Aamjiwnaang First Nation, read letters from the community on their concerns about the levels of benzene, a chemical known to cause cancer, being emitted by one of the nearby plants in Sarnia, Ont.

“I’m concerned about my grandson playing outdoors daily, he loves to,” Mr. Smith-White read from a letter by a community member. “I’m concerned for my pets. I’m concerned for my own love of the outdoors. I’m concerned about sleeping with my windows open.”

He reinforced Ms. Smoke’s sentiments about the inclusion of Indigenous voices.

“This is an opportunity for the world to recognize that most First Nations are front-line communities, our voices need to be heard,” Mr. Smith-White said.

Janelle Nahmabin, an elected councillor for Aamjiwnaang First Nation, said the pollution of the community has been a continuing issue for more than 100 years.

“Every single family on Aamjiwnaang has felt the effects of this pollution, not just the families that are here right now,” said Ms. Nahmabin. “The conversations that we’re having right now, the words that I’m speaking to you right now, were already said by my father, my grandfather,” she added.

Sarnia, where the Aamjiwnaang reserve is located, has been called Canada’s Chemical Valley because it is responsible for 40 per cent of Canada’s chemical industry with 62 refining and petrochemical facilities, according to a report by Ecojustice, a non-profit environmental law organization.

Oliver Anderson, a spokesperson for federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, said Canada is pushing for a treaty that is ambitious and inclusive for the benefit of all Canadians, including Indigenous peoples. He added that Ottawa’s recent update to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act reaffirms its commitment to implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

He said that Mr. Guilbeault met with Indigenous and frontline communities on Tuesday to ensure that their voices and concerns are reflected in the discussions and negotiations at INC-4.

“The government continues to collaborate with Indigenous partners on meaningful solutions to the plastic pollution crisis while upholding Indigenous rights, human rights and environmental protection,” Mr. Anderson said.

Canada is pressing to have the treaty address the entire lifecycle of plastic, instead of just the waste it produces.

During the conference, Mr. Guilbeault announced two measures to improve and find solutions to plastic waste.

“To maintain a circular economy with fossil-fuel-driven plastic is at the expense of Indigenous people’s bodies,” said Tori Cress, a representative of the Keepers of the Water organization, in response to a question about plastic circularity at the press conference.

She said the extraction of the materials needed to create plastics, such as oil, continues to harm environments around the world.

“It’s flowing out from the Athabasca out into the Arctic Ocean.”





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