Mid North Monitor
by Helen Morley
April 5, 2019
Raymond Owl, one of the founding members of Traditional Ecological Knowledge Elders (TEK) of the North Shore of Lake Huron, says they will be going to court to force the government to live up to the promises made in the Robinson Huron Treaty of 1850. First Nations were guaranteed the rights to hunt, fish, gather berries and use plant medicines, in traditional territories. The Constitution Act of 1982 reaffirms those rights.
The elders contend these rights are being violated by the practice of aerial spraying that they believe is damaging to plants, water, fish and animals. They are also concerned about the harm to humans.
The TEK Elders website, www.tekelders.weebly.com, gives the best explanation of why they are taking action.
“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. ”
The forestry companies, which are granted the right to spray clear-cut areas by the MNRF, use a chemical called Vision, or Roundup. This glyphosate-based herbicide, made by Monsanto, is used to kill those trees and plants that share the same area as newly planted jack pine and spruce seedlings. It prevents the plant from making proteins that are needed for the plant to grow. Those trees and plants targeted include poplar and birch trees, raspberry bushes and fireweed. These species are fast growing and could overgrow the young seedlings, which require a few years growth to survive.
Owl, who is also a member of Sagamok Anishinawbek First Nation, says the band chiefs have tried to stop the spraying since the 1990s. They weren’t listened to. That is why the TEK Elders decided to form their own group in 2014, by getting a few elders from each band to participate, bringing with them their own ecological knowledge. The group is composed of elders from 21 bands in the area ranging from North Bay to Sault Ste. Marie. Owl says they have been working for five years to get aerial spraying stopped. Three years ago the group was given the power to negotiate for the bands to stop the aerial spraying.
The TEK Elders have had meetings with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, and local forestry company Eacom. They have also contacted Health Canada with their concerns. Owl says when it comes to aerial spraying First Nations have never been consulted. He also says the local MNRF prefers not to speak with First Nations about the spraying. He believes their employees have been told not to communicate with them.
The proof of First Nation claims that glyphosate is harmful lies in the traditional knowledge of their environment, which goes back 1,000 years.
Owl says it is practical, scientific knowledge that comes from first-hand experience and observation. First Nations have enormous respect for their environment and all of the creatures that are part of the ecological system. The knowledge gained from their environment is part of their traditional teachings, which are passed on orally from generation to generation. This innate understanding of ecological relationships, also includes an understanding of the behaviour of environmental contaminants. They took notice of the environmental changes that have been taking place on their lands since aerial spraying started over 43 years ago.
Owl says the elders know that by killing these plant species the animals, birds and insects that would normally exist in companionship with them also tend to disappear. One species that depends on poplar for their survival is the beaver. It’s their main food source.
“Beavers need to eat every day because their teeth grow constantly.” If they don’t have the trees to chew on, the teeth grow too long, lock up and the beaver dies. He also mentioned that where jack pine and spruce are planted, “bear, rabbit and porcupine won’t live in there.”
One of his main concerns is the bees that pollinate all growing plants.
“Our food chain starts with this tiny insect.”
In the bush the bees pollinate the blueberry bushes, one of the main food sources for bears.
“When there are no blueberries, the bears come into the villages looking for something to eat. In July, there is nothing to harvest. The bears become a nuisance. Their food sources are being taken away.”
Owl says he does not want to see one plant in the forest poisoned. First Nations are dependent on the health of the forest.
“Everything is there for a reason. Every plant is a medicine of some kind, or you can eat it.”
The elder says he has participated in protests, been to Ottawa and Queen’s Park, and talked with local like-minded politicians, and chiefs from across Ontario. He has tried being diplomatic.
Now he says, “We’re done. We’re done waiting; done playing.”
With the help of Stephen O’Neill, a lawyer and retired judge, the TEK Elders are planning on suing the federal government. Owl believes that pressuring the federal government should force the provincial government to listen as well.
“They have violated the treaty. The Crown is only a trustee for the land.”
Information on how they intend to proceed will be announced in the next few weeks.
A collection of writings and news on traditional ecological knowledge and the TEK Elder's fight to stop aerial spraying of herbicides in Northern Ontario.