Good morning, Madam Chair and members of Parliament.
My name is Nalaine Morin. I am a member of the Tahltan nation and principal of ArrowBlade Consulting Services. I am pleased to make this presentation to you today summarizing my views relating the review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. The views I present here today are on my own behalf, based on my experience as an indigenous person who believes strongly in the natural laws of environmental stewardship and protection of the land for future generations.
The Tahltan traditional territory is in northwest British Columbia and southern Yukon Territory in Canada. Our territory includes the headwaters of three major salmon-bearing rivers, the Stikine, Nass and Skeena, and supports an abundance of wild game. The lands, waters, and resources of our territory have nourished our people culturally, economically, and spiritually for countless generations. According to Tahltan laws and traditions, we are responsible for taking care of the land, water, and resources so that our territory will continue to support our people for generations to come.
ArrowBlade Consulting Services has been providing professional services to our clients in the areas of natural resource management, industrial project development, regulatory review, and consultation. We hold in high regard the value of traditional knowledge, as well as western science and science-based tools such as risk assessment and risk management. I myself come from a background of both working for mining companies, with experience in the NPRI, and working directly for government, like the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, participating in panel reviews of mining projects.
The Canadian Environmental Protection Act is a significant piece of legislation for Canadians as it is directed at pollution prevention and protecting the environmental and human health. Within those general principles, I certainly see some synergies in the interests of first nations in continuing sustainable development as well as protecting mother earth.
Another important aspect of this act is meant to contribute to sustainable development through identifying and managing pollution sources that may have a negative impact on the environment and human health. There are a number of areas within the act that speak specifically to the inclusion and consideration of public interests, including the interests of the indigenous people in Canada. With my review I spent my time focusing specifically on those aspects.
When asked to participate in the review, I spent a great deal of time contemplating the purpose of CEPA and the importance of pollution prevention as it relates to the protection of the environment and human health. In the last 10 years, the Tahltan traditional territory has been opened up by resource development activities, including new mine developments and hydro projects—run of river, hydro lines—which have had a significant effect on the traditional landscape. I have also witnessed in that time period increases in significant health issues, including rates of cancer and rates of dementia, within our the communities in the Tahltan nation. I have to ask myself whether we are doing a good job implementing our laws, like CEPA, that are meant to manage pollution and wastes, understanding and controlling toxic substances, and ensuring the long-term health and viability of our lands and our people, if we are seeing these kinds of adverse effects.
As part of my review, I also reviewed a number of submissions that were provided to you, and I can relate to some of the specific matters like whether we are effectively implementing these regulations, which is one of the reasons why I raise that in my submission today.
My concerns are not unique. One just has to pick up a paper or turn on the news to understand that many other areas and remote regions in Canada are experiencing similar increases in health risks.
If we have legislation that is designed to identify, isolate, and manage potential contaminants in the interests of protecting human health and the environment, why are we continuing to see increases in human health issues? Are we, as government and members of Canada, understanding our abilities under CEPA and implementing the tools developed to manage the risks? I think there are opportunities to further explore and address these points, and my recommendations include the following.
We need to improve the awareness of and understanding of CEPA within indigenous communities and with indigenous governments. The definition of aboriginal government seems somewhat restricted to a smaller number of types of indigenous government organizations, so we are really limiting our ability to fully implement CEPA and the objectives outlined under it.
We should adopt the recommendations issued in the discussion paper of May 2016 regarding the identification and inclusion of vulnerable populations in risk assessment to ensure increased awareness and consideration of these populations.
Furthermore, we should also adopt the recommendations identified in the Canadian Environmental Project Act toolkit published by the Assembly of First Nations recommending the development of specific objectives, guidelines, and codes of practice on aboriginal lands.
We need to increase the participation of indigenous peoples represented on the national advisory council by changing the definition of aboriginal governments as published by the Assembly of First Nations.
Further to that, we should provide further definition and clarification regarding consultation to ensure that processes are meaningful. I would say the same for the definition of traditional knowledge. Within CEPA there is recognition and inclusion of the term, but it requires further definition to fully realize the potential and the fact that traditional knowledge is different depending on the region and the nation you're speaking to.
Most recently, Canada has become a signatory to the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which includes some of the following: recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their spiritual relationship with their territories; to own, use, develop, and control their traditional territories; and to provide free, prior, and informed consent regarding developments affecting their traditional territories.
I recommend that consideration be given to these rights and to how they may further strengthen the abilities of Canadians to fully realize CEPA's potential as well as improve the rights of indigenous peoples.
Overall, I am in support of recommendations identified in the AFN submission as well as the discussion paper of May 2016.