Severe industrial pollution to rivers and lakes across Canada threatens the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples who rely on these waters for food, livelihoods and maintaining their traditions.  

Governments in Canada should be setting a positive example for the rest of the world by working with Indigenous peoples to address these dangers; instead, they have ignored the voices of Indigenous peoples, and they have ignored direct calls to action from UN human rights bodies.  

Amnesty International has joined Indigenous water defenders to step up the pressure for urgent and meaningful action on three shocking cases of waters and people at risk in Canada. 

Our people are a river people. When we found out the mercury was in the water it had a really devastating effect our community.

Judy Da Silva, Grassy Narrows First Nation 

In the 1960s, the Ontario government allowed an upstream pulp mill to dump more than 5 tonnes of mercury into the English and Wabigoon River system. The federal and provincial governments still haven’t addressed the devastating impact on the people of Grassy Narrows. 

Our bodies are part of our lands. I am made of salmon, moose, deer and berries from our territory. Our story about the land is a love story.

Nuskmata Mack, Xat’sull First Nation, Secwepemc territory

In August, 2014, the tailings dam at the Mount Polley copper and gold mine burst, sending 25 million cubic metres of tailings and waste water into pristine Quesnel Lake, causing the largest environmental mining disaster in Canadian history. The company in charge of the mine has not been fined or charged, the tailings remain in Quesnel Lake and the company has a permit to discharge mine water into the lake until 2022. Residents fear exposure to toxins if they fish or drink water from the lake. 

If this valley is flooded, we’ll lose a big piece of who we are as Dunne Za people.

Helen Knott, Prophet River First Nation 

Their own environmental assessment concluded that flooding the Peace River Valley would have severe, permanent and irreversible harm to First Nations. The federal government and the Province of British Columbia approved the Site C dam anyway. First Nations have been forced to go to court just to have the impacts on the Treaty rights considered. In the meantime, the UN’s top anti-racism body has called for an immediate halt to construction. 

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