I vaguely recall a Fifth Estate (CBC) exposé (I think back in the 50’s) which related how First Nations workers, hired by a corporation to work with asbestos, became deathly ill a few years later. (Note: only “Indians” were hired). Cancer claimed many of them. I only remember that it was up north, possibly in Cree country. I wish I could remember more details about the show. Regardless, I do have a clear memory of First Nations men finding work in an asbestos-filled work environment here in Algonquin territory.
A First Nations friend called me up about 20 years ago. I was in-between jobs and he invited me to work with him “ridding asbestos” from the post office at the Alta Vista location. “The company prefers to hire Indians,” he told me. “And why is that?” I inquired of him. “The boss says we’re the best workers,” was his gleeful response.
One of my cousins (Nelson Bone) took the job. I did not! My cousin worked there for a bit, I’m not sure how long. Several months, I believe. A fact not in dispute is that my cousin died of brain cancer a few years later. Was the cancer which killed him brought on from the work he did in a contaminated worksite? No one knows for sure! It is indeed a fact that direct contact with asbestos will, over a period of time, cause cancer to take a deadly hold of a human being’s organs. So it is quite possible that Nelson is dead now because he took a job in a contaminated work environment.
It is also a well-known fact that the soil in and around Chaudière and Albert Islands is highly contaminated. Not with asbestos, but poison is poison! It will cost many millions of dollars to clean up the awful mess. The deadly agents soaking the soil on land destined, they say, to become a spectacular place of condos and commerce needs to be totally cleansed of them beforehand. The company (Windmill Developments) who is overseeing the work, I’m told, is hoping Ottawa tax payers will dish out over 60 million dollars (I’m serious) to help cover costs incurred by Windmill for the massive clean-up. Meanwhile, Windmill Developments is hiring Algonquin men to work at “preparing the land for construction.” I would pass on the offer!
Are the men being hired to work there aware of just how severely the land at their future workplace is contaminated? Poisons on the islands have been laying dormant for decades. The deadly contaminants presently filling the soil, will most certainly rise up after being disturbed by heavy machinery and become airborne. The men in and around the poisons will take the stuff into their lungs, day after day, month after month. What toll will the poison take on their health?
An investigation of some kind, some research by professionals, some science on it, whatever, something needs to occur at the site ASAP to guarantee an innocent Algonquin worker will not die years down the road because of him/her working in a contaminated work environment. People who want to better their lot in life with a job shouldn’t have to put their lives on the line to do it. If studies have been done, then let the results be revealed to the public. How is it possible to gauge the harmful effects which might occur to a human being after working with such poisons for extended periods of time? Please spell it out for us.
I know nothing of the deadly contaminants at Chaudière and Albert Islands or how quickly the health of a human being deteriorates after being around the stuff for months on end. All I know is that I will offer prayers for the Algonquins who will go there daily to “prepare the site for construction.” If any Algonquin worker becomes sick from doing the work, I hope his next of kin will be properly compensated by the politicians who are allowing this to happen.
The Islands are sacred. The contaminants in the soil there should be removed slowly. There is no rush. Even if it took several years to do it safely, then let it be so. Let the Islands be returned as a greenspace, a sacred space, a park for all Canadians to go to and wonder at the might of water. A place to stand in harmony with all the Peoples who make up the populations of Canada.