Toxic Tour with Peaceful Folks
by Yusur Al Bahrahni
“Welcome to Aamjiwnaang”: As soon as I read the sign, my heart turned to be a mixing pot of emotions. I was happy to be at the toxic tour. Aamjiwaang community members were friendly, cheerful and welcoming. But I was sad, and I am still sad. When the bus went in the direction of the reserve, and as we were on our way to the community centre, I could smell the chemicals polluting the air. The smell haunted me and went straight through my lungs. The community is going through this everyday. I believe in the power of people. Solidarity will not only give the community support, but will bring change.
Chemical Valley isn’t anywhere far. To my surprise it’s not more than 3 hours drive from my home in Toronto, but yet it was my first time to be there. Chemical Valley is located outside of Sarnia, Ontario. According to several reports, it has the highest concentration of petrochemical plants in Canada. Pollutants are heavily affecting the Aamjiwnaang First Nation community who live close to the plants. There are more than 60 refineries owned and managed by corporations including Suncor, Shell, DOW Chemicals, ESSO Imperial Oil and Lanxess. The chemical Valley is situated on Objibwe Anishinaabe territory.
The issue isn’t new. People have been suffering from the pollutants since decades and negative health impacts have been documented. Several members of the community describe this as “environmental racism.” According to reports, 40% of Canada’s total annual petrochemical production takes place within a 50-kilometer radius of Aamjiwnaang.
Despite the severe health impacts, pollution and all negative effects on members of the community and environment, there is resilience. I met brave people who fight tirelessly for a better environment in their Aamjiwnaang First Nation community and for all in Canada. Members of the community are leading the movement. Aamjiwnaang and Sarnia Against Pipelines’ (ASAP) Lindsay Gray and Vanessa Gray are inspiring young women who are taking the initiative with other concerned activists to raise awareness about the Chemical Valley. It’s important to mention that the movement is an example of non-violent resistance that aims to protect our environment.
For me, the toxic tour was very informative and inspired me to take action to be in solidarity with the community in Sarnia. As ASAP mentioned, there will be more toxic tours that aim to raise awareness. If you haven’t been on that before, keep an eye on the next one!