Environmental Racism

Eye on Activism


 by Zara Zrudlo

Racism isn’t just one simple idea, there are many different parts to it. One of the parts is environmental racism. Environmental racism is how the actions of people with ‘higher’ status, impact the people with ‘lower status’, usually focusing on people of visible minorities.

All over the world there are a lot of mines, toxic waste disposal sites, refineries, chemical plants, and other facilities that are dangerous to people’s health. On Turtle Island, what is now known as North America, most of them are right next to communities with a high population of people who are Black, Indigenous, or persons of color. These types of facilities can cause rare and dangerous kinds of cancer and other diseases.

Because the communities mentioned above don’t always have access to good health care, or because of racism IN the healthcare system, these diseases and their causes often get ignored. A survey taken in BC found that 84% of Indigenous folks have experienced racism in healthcare. Stats similar to this are not confined to BC, or Indigenous people. People of color and black people have experienced similar things. Racism existing in all levels of government and services make it even harder for environmenal racism to come to light.

In Ontario, more than 60 refineries and chemical plants have surrounded Aamjiwnaang First Nation since the 1940s, creating what’s known as “Chemical Valley.” Chemical Valley is one of the most polluted places in the country. The journal ‘Cancer’ did a study in 2019 and found that a certain part of myeloid leukemia is more common there than anywhere else in the country.

While communities affected by environmental racism aren’t always widely acknowledged, there is a lot of research into the effects of the toxins found in waste sites, thermal generating stations and pulp and paper mills. The toxins used in these facilities — heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, fine particulate matter, and mobile gases — are associated with a long list of health issues including cancer, birth defects, and damage to most of the vital organs.

The air pollution caused by many of these facilities has been studied, and linked to a lot of heart diseases which cause 14,600 premature deaths in Canada per year. Based on maps and statistics, we can assume that a lot of these are from marginalized communities.

Environmental racism can sometimes be more subtle than other types of racism. You have to look at maps and find the pattern of where the dangerous facilities are positioned, otherwise it just looks like a coincidence.

Another example is the Gaslink pipeline that is going straight through the Wet’suwet’en territory. It is not only atrocious, but illegal. The people in that territory were never consulted and they never ceded their land to the Crown. According to The Indian Act, the government/ Crown is not allowed to take land from the Indigenous Peoples without treaty negotiation or trade of some sort.

The Indian Act is racist and horrendous. It treats the Indigenous Peoples like they are barely human. It is shame- ful that it exists, however, the least the government can do is follow the rights for Indigenous Peoples that are set out in it.

According to Wet’suwet’en law, the Hereditary Chiefs have jurisdiction over the land. This is supported by the 1997 Supreme Court of Canada Delgamuukw decision. This law states that provinces can’t extinguish Indigenous land titles (which includes rights to natural resources), and oral history is legitimate evidence of land claims. The Hereditary Chiefs have said that the construction of the Costal Gaslink pipeline is a violation of their law, and have issued the company an eviction notice that has been ignored. The construction of the pipeline has also caused many Wet’suwet’en people to be removed, sometimes by force from their homes on their traditional lands.

More than 150 countries have updated their environmental laws to include a provision that having a healthy environment is a human right. Hopefully Canada will soon follow. For now, what we can do is continue to learn, protest and call the government and industries out on what they’re doing. To learn more about environmental racism in Canada, you can check out Elliott Page’s movie, “There’s Something In the Water”. You can also look at an article the magazine Chatelaine called “This Is Where Canada Dumps Tons Of Its Toxic Waste, Tailings Ponds—And Racism”.

Zara Zrudlo is a home-schooled, fourteen year old resident of Kemtpville. They love writing, art, acting, reading and anything to do with music. Ever since they were little they’ve cared a lot about activism and social justice, and hoped to make a difference in the world. Zara has written two and a half novels, and ran a newspaper for their friends and family for three years. They love hanging out with their dogs and chickens and spend- ing time imagining having dinner with various book characters.


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