Aamjiwnaang is a small First Nations community located on the shores of the St. Clair River in Southwestern Ontario. Being situated within the city limits of Sarnia, Ontario provides Aamjiwnaang, and its members, many unique opportunities, economic development and employment to name a couple. Bordered on three sides by Canada’s largest petrochemical refining concentration (40% of Canada’s Petrochemical refineries), Aamjiwnaang also has a disproportionate amount of pollution related to illnesses and side effects.

The Aamjiwnaang Environment Committee began in 2002 in response to the announcement of Suncor’s new Ethanol Plant location, on our borders. The committee met to discuss all methods of stopping the further encroachment on our lands.

The community stood cautiously behind the Committee. The likelihood of this small group of people stopping a multi-million dollar facility was improbable at best. The Chief and Council of the First Nation also waded carefully.

The initial first steps were to form sub-committees that would concentrate on areas such as the legal aspects of the proposed new site (Ontario Municipal Board policies and guidelines were not applicable as a First Nation is considered as Federal Lands). The Canadian Courts and legal structures have allowed the provinces to pick and choose which provincial laws are applicable and which are not when it pertains to First Nations.

As a result of these initial steps, associations and relationships were formed with prominent organizations and people within the environmental and worker health disciplines. These relationships helped to obtain funding for studies and tests on sediment and food and game. They also helped with the First Nation understanding a previous study, sanctioned by the First Nation, which noted levels of heavy metals far exceeding the provincial standards.

The efforts to stop the encroachment was brought to a boil by the Suncor plans to use a private road, owned by Aamjiwnaang, to transport heavy equipment and staff for a planned shutdown of the plant.

Members of the committee successfully blocked the road for 6 weeks to prevent this from happening. A secondary success of the blockade had Suncor alter the planned location of the plant to their second option, miles from Aamjiwnaang borders.

Chief, Council and community members celebrated the news. The committee however, now knew of the concentrations of metals and other pollutants affecting Aamjiwnaang members. They did not disband as was thought they would. Instead they moved into different areas, attracting national and international exposure. Today, the Aamjiwnaang Environment Committee and its members have received a level of integrity and peer equality with the “experts” of the environmental movement.

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