Photo: Jesse McLaren

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I took a scenic drive to Sarnia, Ontario to attend the Toxic Tour-Chemical Valley and stand in solidarity with Aamjiwnaang First Nation.  I couldn’t help but appreciate the bright, sunny weather and scenery along the way and noticed the leaves were just starting to change. Our Greenbelt in Southern Ontario is spectacular.

I drove through downtown Sarnia and arrived at the Aamjiwnaang First Nation Community Centre, Maawn Doosh Gumig at 1972 Virgil Avenue and was amazed at the attendance for the Community Dinner and Speakers. The centre was packed! We enjoyed a delicious vegan/vegetarian dinner and then a number of guest speakers, musicians, poets and artists that contributed to an amazing evening and insight to the hardships of the community and premise of bringing awareness to the issues in Aamjiwnaang and Sarnia.

Prior to arrival and off in the distance, I caught a glimpse of Chemical Valley, it was difficult to miss and the massive extent is believable only if seen in person.

Collectively, more than 60 oil refineries and petro-chemical plants operate within 25 km of the valley — ccounting for 40 per cent of Canada’s total chemical industry. The  Aamjiwnaang First Nation Community is located and surrounded by these refineries and has been called the most polluted place in North America.

VICE reporter Michael Toledano had this to say when he visited the Aamjuwnaang in 2013:

“The reserve is a sort of industrial sacrifice zone continuously exposed to pollutants known to cause cancer, cardiovascular, respiratory, developmental and reproductive disorders — Aamjiwnaang has, for instance, a 39 per cent rate of miscarriage and an anomalous birth ratio of two women for every man born (as opposed to national average of approximately 1:1).”

The people, land, air and water have suffered the consequences of such pollution and neglect throughout the years. This needs to be addressed by the our provinicial and federal government by putting an end to industrial expansion, including the new tar sands refineries being proposed in the area.

On Saturday September 5, 2015 we rallied together at Aamjiwnaang First Nation Administration and Council in Sarnia, Ontario, surrounded by refineries on all sides and right beside a daycare building and church. Organzizers, Vanessa Gray and Lindsay Beze Gray, officially started that walk and rally by pointing out the key refineries, our route and also added that although these industries are required to alert the community and report leaks, this is rarely done.

Earlier this year, children at the daycare were sent to hospital feeling unwell with crusty eyes, no alert or report was made, therefore children were wrongly diagnosed with the flu and sent home. Shell later admitted to the spill and were charged under the Environmental Protection Act with causing adverse effects. This is not acceptable.

The Toxic Tour itself captured the magnitude of the social and environmental injustice in the Aamjiwnaang First Nation Reserve and Sarnia, however it also captured the essence of community, spirit, activism and hope for a better future. We enjoyed several stops along the way,  lunch, speakers, artists , musicians, healing circle and song & dance in Solidarity with  Aamjiwnaang.

Many thanks to the organizers Vanessa and Lindsay Gray, artists and speakers Lee Reed,  Sâkihitowin Awâsis and Test Their Logik, supporting groups and volunteers for an amazing event that I look forward to attending in 2016.

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Photo: Jesse McLaren

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