Canada’s a big country and we’ve hidden a third world community within our borders

I attended, along with Sophie and J.F., two OURANOS seminars 20 November 2008. Both seminars were focused on hydrology and climate change. The first, given by Hydro-Quebec, explained their research and modeling of future hydrology in Quebec under various climate change scenarios. The second was presented by two affiliated OURANOS scientists researching the impacts of climate change (especially rising water levels, changes in ice quantity and patterns, and erosion) on the St. Lawrence shoreline.

Related to these seminars was the OURANOS seminar and article about participatory climate monitoring in Nunavik communities along the Hudson Bay shoreline. When I thought about these Quebec-climatic themed topics together, especially with respect to Hydro-Quebec, I started wondering about the history and future of indigenous land rights in Quebec. Hydro-Quebec, with government support mind you, has displaced countless native communities through the building of hydroelectric dams and associated flooding of surrounding lowlands. While the Cree are likely the best recognized community in Quebec, there are many more, including Huron, Micmac, Abenaki, Algonquin, Mohawk, Montagnais, and Naskapi. Many of these communities have been displaced and neglected, and are now face a serious threat from northern climatic shifts (such as declining safe ice routes, as described in the circulated article).

It is commonly believed that the most marginalized people in the world will feel the affects of climatic changes first and most severely. This is in part due to higher reliance on natural services for substance living, but also because the wealth required for building and organizing environmental disaster relief systems (i.e. reinforcing coastline storm breakers, evacuation procedures, and backup sources of clean water if wells are flooded or contaminated) is concentrated outside of these communities and/or their respective countries. In the case of Canada, we are a wealthy country that fails to allocate equal rights and services to native communities. These communities live in the periphery zone; outside the privileges most people would associate with be Canadian. We live in the core, in Montreal, Ottawa, and smaller southern communities which are the core political, economic and social regions in Canada. The ridge between core and periphery is pronounced and an embarrassment to Canada. I attended a lecture given by Stephen Lewis two years ago at Dalhousie University, Halifax, during which Mr. Lewis explained an experience he had while discussing human rights violation at United Nations meeting. He recounted how, out of shear embarrassment over the way native peoples were treated in Canada, he eventually refused speaking out against other countries for human rights violations. Personally I think that is a huge statement, considering the conflicts, genocides, imprisonments and extreme poverty that exist in various countries. I point I am hoping to make is that many native communities in Quebec and Canada have and continue to be afflicted with human rights violations, some living in a third world situation within Canadian borders.

Climate change and all associated environmental shifts are predicted to increase and worsen worldwide, with northern areas being the hardest hit. It is my opinion that as climatic changes increasingly alter Northern environments (particularly temperature and hydrology) native human rights issues in Canada will be exacerbated. When researching and discussing climate change in Canada and Quebec, it will be important to assess the concerns, safety, and sustainability of northern native communities.

2 Responses to “Canada’s a big country and we’ve hidden a third world community within our borders”

  1. guesswho says:

    Very interesting comment, patagonia ! Have you eard about the Plan Nord of the liberal party of Quebec ? The liberal party wants to develop 3500 MW in the North. It does say that 20% of this eletric capacity will be produced by alternative methods, such as windmill or solar pannels, but it does not mention where the other 80% will come from ! Some local communities strongly opposed themself to this project that was prepared without their consultation.

  2. This is sooo sad about our native communities! I can believe that today, in 2008, they still have deep social problems like drugs problem, lack of education, women equity, etc. I went to few seminars on Wednesday November 19th 2008 about “Réchauffement climatique au Nunavik et mesures d’adaptation presented by Michel Allard and the overall the ArcticNet project was really nice. They worked with local authorities and developed different strategies to face global warming. However, no or little social issues were resolved… I don’t know if programs like ArcticNet can take social initiatives. I would think so! Today ArcticNet project is on his second phase and even if they worked hard with local authorities, they have not educated local people at University during the phase 1. No graduate students are from those native communities in the second phase. Why? I sincerely like the ArcticNet project but How native people feel when White scientist told native people what to do and what is right to do? Even if ideas, strategic plans are primarily good, how native people can know that it is good? Education is one of the fundamental processes to resolve social issues. Even if you have good intentions and good adaptive strategies, we can completely “miss the boat” by having not educated people that eats, breaths, feels, lives in those regions. I deeply like project like the one that Joé Juneau did in Kuujjuaq (Québec). Instead of spending his post NHL career in warm regions drinking Coconut juice under hot sun, he built a hockey-school program in which kids have to perform at school before playing hockey. This is what made his life more meaningful. For the full story, I invite you to read the Gazette article at this address or the CBCsports reportage at