A decision was reached at the federal level to approve a regional impact assessment proposal of the St. Lawrence River, as requested by the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) on July 29, 2020.
The request for an assessment of the river that borders the shores of the community was prompted by the MCK Consultation Committee, which identified a need to address data gaps, along with a lack of understanding of cumulative effects resulting from decades of industrial development and activity.
In the July 15 memo containing the decision, Liberal minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson expressed gratitude toward MCK chief Ross Montour for “actively participating in that engagement process,” which he initiated a year ago.
“The MCK wishes to thank all of the stakeholders that participated in the review of our request, including the strong support we received from other Indigenous governments,” said Montour, who is the lead on the Indigenous Rights and Research portfolio.
The chief said that for this request, like all other matters, bringing an Indigenous worldview
centred on respecting all living creatures is of the utmost importance.
“We want to acknowledge all of those things because they provide life for us – they sustain us,” said Montour. “As human beings we need to live in balance with all.”
In order to reach an informed final decision, minister Wilkinson had further analysis and engagement conducted by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada.
Among the reasons he listed for the resolution, the environment minister stated the necessity to inform future project specific federal impact assessments and judgements.
In addition, the letter emphasized the opportunity for collaboration with other jurisdictions, as well as the potential for impacts to the rights of Indigenous Peoples in the region.
“Throughout the recent engagement process, the Agency heard from First Nations in the area that current and proposed developments may, both individually and cumulatively, affect Indigenous rights, traditional lands and resources, socioeconomic conditions, health, and community well-being,” reads the minister’s statement.
The substantial public interest related to development and cumulative effects regarding the St. Lawrence River were also important factors considered.
As a next step, Wilkinson stated that officials had been instructed to begin planning for the regional assessment. This includes entering into discussions with the Quebec government to establish its potential participation.
“This planning process will also include involving Indigenous peoples and other governmental and non-government organizations in the design of the regional assessment, including its objectives, scope, and outcomes, as well as its governance structure and administrative procedures,” wrote the minister.
With the implementation of Indigenous stewardship rights and responsibilities for the river at the forefront, Montour expressed his eagerness to make headway with this important environmental project.
“I feel like we’ve made some progress and broken some ground,” he said. “As an Onkwehón:we and an Onkwehón:we team, we’ve done justice. We’re a small team but we’re all committed to the work we’re doing.”
In a press release, the Council underlined that, if done right, this impact assessment could also lead towards advancing reconciliation.
Laurence Brisson Dubreuil, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door