Environmental Racism in Canada

Updated: Jun 29


This blog post seeks to identify Indigenous communities that have experienced environmental racism. Other examples of environmental racism within BIPOC communities are listed at the end.

"It's 2021, yet clean and safe drinking water is not and has not been accessible to 33 First Nations communities in Canada for over 20 years, with long-term advisories still in effect. A single drinking water advisory can mean as many as 5,000 people lack access to clean water, representing close to 165,000 people without an essential human right." - THE COUNCIL OF CANADIANS

What is environmental racism?

"The disproportionate location, or site, of polluting industries in communities of color - Indigenous communities, black communities, and the working poor. And these are typically communities that lack a base (an economic base, a political base) to fight back." Ingrid Waldron

On May 27th, 2021, CBC released an article documenting the findings of 215 Indigenous children's bodies on a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia. Using radar that penetrates through soil, and in a culturally sensitive and respectful manor, children as young as three-years-old were discovered. This discovery marked a global widespread movement coupled with ongoing activism against systemic racism within Canadian Indigenous communities.

It is noted by Indigenous activists that the horror that was seen globally in May is too little too late. Canada had developed Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which originally found only 50 bodies, a drastic difference to the eventual 215.

It isn't a surprise to Indigenous people. These discoveries provide concrete evidence of the systemic racism which has already been part of a wider conversation and reference point for activism amongst Indigenous communities, activists, and allies.

A Manifested Destiny still rings true today, a seemingly sinister mission to destroy Indigenous culture, with the discoveries at the former Kamploops Indian Residential School and the former Marieval Indian Residential School. Ongoing operations are still underway at many other former residential schools.

These unmarked graves pose a piece of a larger picture of how systemic racism bred environmental racism; environmental racism is a by-product of systemic racism. "Environmental racism looks at how health, placement of industries, race, culture, gender, disability, income, class, and morality converge," says Waldron in a TED Talk.

On February 26, 2020 Bill C-230 was read in the House of Commons as the first proposed legislated document that would "require the federal government to collect statistical information on the location of environmental hazards across Canada, as well as the links between race, socioeconomic status and health outcomes."

This larger picture dives into the history behind systemic racism in Canada, and more specifically how it relates to environmental racism in Canada today. Historically, environmental racism and systemic racism can be dated back to colonization in North America, and what is widely known as "manifest destiny".

Some may argue that ideologies like manifest destiny are part of colonization years ago and does not occur today. Originally coined by confederate John Louis O'Sullivan in 1845, manifest destiny became a widely accepted ideology that captured the wishes of early Catholicism, England, and colonization. O'Sullivan is commonly known to have also stated that, "without the institution of slavery, whites and black could not live together in harmony." Today, instances in land ownership, deforestation, irrigation, landfill and wastewater locations, ecosystems collapse, and biodiversity loss point toward ties to Indigenous communities. These indicators are used by government bodies, BIPOC activists, charities, non-profits, and increasingly amongst environmental lawyers.

The courts, a colonial legal institution, ― "regarded Aboriginal nations as uncivilized and thus not independent [and] they refused to view Crown promises in treaties with Aboriginal people as legally enforceable obligations under international or domestic law." - Patrick Macklem

Canada's history is built on systemic and environmental racism. It touches every corner of the country and we are not immune to it.

Kahnawake Mohawk Territory community march to commemorate mass grave of 215 Indigenous children found in Kamloops

"There are these myths that we are so radically different from the U.S. The police target and brutalize and kill Black and Indigenous Peoples." - Pam Palmater, Mi'kmaq lawyer and professor at Ryerson University.

Due to spatial inequality there have been consistent institutionalized racist reforms, bills, laws, and political leaders that have sought to undermine any movements and activism that seek to dismantle manifest destiny in all its colonized patriation. Although there is a continued perceived benefit to the status quo via biases, gentrification, and capitalization, there is a large gap in wealth distribution, happiness indexes and indices, generational poverty and addiction issues.