Article - Contaminated culture: Native people struggle with tainted resources, lost identity

Toban Black/flickr. The Anishinaabe people from Aamjiwnaang First Nation are surrounded by heavy industry.
For the Anishinaabe people at the southernmost tip of Lake Huron, cedar is not just a tree – it is sacred. Used in medicines and teas, the tree’s roots, bark and sap have been central to their physical, mental and cultural wellbeing for centuries. “We smudge with it, as singers we inhale it, as a medicine we bathe in it,” said Ron Plain, an Anishinaabe tribe member. But the tribe has abandoned its generations-old tradition. The cedar is tainted with cadmium, a metal linked to cancer and learning disabilities. In this region of Ontario, dubbed “Chemical Valley,” the contamination is part of everyday life for the Anishinaabe. For decades, indigenous people in the United States and Canada have been burdened with health problems linked to environmental pollutants. But that isn’t their only sacrifice: Pollution is crippling some tribes’ culture. Their native foods, water, medicines, language and ceremonies, as well as their traditional techniques of farming, hunting and fishing, have been jeopardized by contaminants and development. And as indigenous people lose these vital aspects of their lives, their identity is lost, too.

By Brian Bienkowski
Staff Writer
Environmental Health News
October 25, 2012

For the Anishinaabe people at the southernmost tip of Lake Huron, cedar is not just a tree – it is sacred. Used in medicines and teas, the tree’s roots, bark and sap have been central to their physical, mental and cultural wellbeing for centuries.

“We smudge with it, as singers we inhale it, as a medicine we bathe in it,” said Ron Plain, an Anishinaabe tribe member and environmental policy analyst at the Southern First Nation Secretariat.

But the tribe has abandoned its generations-old tradition. The cedar is tainted with cadmium, a metal linked to cancer and learning disabilities. In this region of Ontario, dubbed “Chemical Valley,” the contamination is part of everyday life for the Anishinaabe.

For decades, indigenous people in the United States and Canada have been burdened with health problems linked to environmental pollutants. But that isn’t their only sacrifice: Pollution is crippling some tribes’ culture, too.

Their native foods, water, medicines, language and ceremonies, as well as their traditional techniques of farming, hunting and fishing, have been jeopardized by contaminants and development. And as indigenous people lose these vital aspects of their lives, their identity is lost, too.

“Animals have died off or left, the water is no good. This is not the world that we know and rely on,” said Kathy Sanchez, a member of the Tewa Pueblo, a tribe in New Mexico that is living with a legacy of pollution from uranium mining.

“It’s contaminated our culture.”

Continue reading the rest of the article on Intercontinental Cry

Also posted on Keepers of the Water

Article: Corporate Personhood and Sulfide Mining in Anishinaabeg Country

In early 2011, Protect Our Manoomin (Weweni Ganawendan Gi-Manoomininaan), an Ojibwe-Anishinaabe grassroots group in Minnesota, was established to raise awareness of the threats of sulfide mining on the ceded lands under the treaties of 1854 and 1855. The main focus of Protect Our Manoomin has been to educate and inform people about sulfide mining and its detrimental impact on the environment – particularly the impact on manoomin.

The English word for manoomin is wild rice. However, the English translation doesn’t convey the deep meaning that manoomin has for Ojibwe-Anishinaabe people. Manoomin means “Good Berry.” Manoomin is rooted in Ojibwe-Anishinaabeg prophecies and origin stories. It is a special gift given to the Ojibwe-Anishinaabeg by Gichi-Manidoo (the Creator). Manoomin is the food that grows on water. Manoomin not only provides food and an economic base, it also provides a cultural, spiritual and ceremonial connection. To the Ojibwe-Anishinaabeg, manoomin is a living being that has been an inherent part of Ojibwe-Anishinaabe culture for nearly a thousand years.

Manoomin is also an environmental resource. Healthy stands of manoomin are the barometer of a healthy ecosystem. But sulfates, which are released through the sulfide mining process, enter into rivers and lakes. The sulfates drift into the sediment where they convert into hydrogen sulfide that enters the root system of manoomin. Concentrations of sulfates that are over 10 parts per million of sulfate impairs the growth of manoomin resulting in withered leaves and smaller seeds; high concentrations of sulfates suffocate and kill manoomin. Macroinvertebrates, vegetation, flora, fish, waterfowl, and wildlife are impacted. Additionally, sulfate-reducing bacteria transforms into methyl mercury that leads to mercury fish contamination. Minnesota state law limits sulfate to 10 parts per million to protect manoomin. The extractive resource colonies proposed for northern and central Minnesota will exceed the limits of the law.

That sulfates can kill manoomin is evidenced by the Wild Rice Dead Zone – a stretch that begins where the Bine-ziibi (Partridge River) enters into Gichigamiwi-ziibi (St. Louis River) and extends 140 miles to the Anishinaabeg-Gichigami Maamawijiwan (Lake Superior Basin). The Wild Rice Dead Zone is the result of extremely high concentrations of sulfate released by U.S. Steel’s Keetac and Minntac taconite mines. Sulfide mining will add yet more sulfates into rivers and lakes thereby affecting the food that grows on water.

Read more here.