3rd Canadian Nuclear Waste Management Decommissioning and Environmental Restoration - 2016 Sept. 11-14

Presented at:
3rd Canadian Nuclear Waste Management Decommissioning and Environmental Restoration
2016 Sept. 11-14
Ottawa, Canada
Session Title:
Session T1: Stakeholder Engagement

J. Keeshig-Martin (Saugeen Ojibway Nation Environment Office)
M. Johnston (Saugeen Ojibway Nation Environment Office)


The safe and responsible long-term management of nuclear waste is a defining challenge of our generation. There is also growing national and international consensus that Indigenous peoples must play a central role in shaping acceptable outcomes where their lands and waters are implicated. This is consistent with the ways Indigenous peoples understand their rights and role within their territories and is now reflected in international human rights documents, federal nuclear policy, industry practice and supported by a growing body of constitutional law. At the heart of this is the developing concept of Free, Prior and Informed Consent and how it might apply in the context of nuclear waste management and in relation to Indigenous rights and perspectives. 

The experience of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) is both unique and instructive in understanding the issues and complexities surrounding First Nations involvement in nuclear waste management planning. The Bruce Nuclear complex has operated within the Territory of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation, known as Anishnaabekiing, since the 1960s, and includes low, intermediate and high-level nuclear waste storage facilities. The area has also been identified as potential site for Canada’s two proposed deep geological repository (DGR) facilities for this waste. In 2013, the SON and Ontario Power Generation (OPG) entered into an agreement to address the legacy of nuclear waste collaboratively, and to proceed with the DGR for low and intermediate-level waste (DGR Project) only if the project had the support of the SON Communities. More recently, in 2016, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization entered into a similar agreement with the SON that it would not select a site for the deep geological repository for Canada’s used nuclear fuel in the SON’s Territory without the consent of the SON Communities.

The paper will discuss, from the perspective of the SON, the opportunities and challenges that arise when Indigenous communities come to play a central role in the key decisions that shape nuclear waste management planning. We will argue, based on this example, that 1) the central involvement of Indigenous peoples in long-term nuclear waste management planning is required from a legal and political perspective; and 2) this central involvement represents a full and necessary expression of inherent stewardship rights. Full recognition and respect of Indigenous and Treaty Rights from nuclear industry partners, particularly the recognition of consent over use of our Territory, provides social and political legitimacy and maintains the Honour of the Crown. In the Canadian context, the emergence of a new dynamic of shared decision-making and stewardship obligations between industry, government and Indigenous peoples has the potential to redefine our understanding of the treaty relationship and forcefully advance the project of reconciliation.

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