Canadian organisations formalise relations with Algonquin First Nation

16 June 2023

Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), and the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation (AOPFN) have signed a long-term relationship agreement to formalise relations between two of Canada’s leading nuclear organizations and the Renfrew County-based First Nation. The agreement will establish a working group to pursue ongoing collaboration, and create a Neya Wabun (Guardian) program to establish a regular AOPFN monitoring presence at designated AECL sites, among other environmental, cultural and economic protection and promotion activities and programs.

The agreement is the culmination of intensive efforts, negotiations and engagement to establish a productive relationship between the owner and operator of Canada’s national nuclear laboratories and the AOPFN. It is built on mutual respect and understanding, and cultivated through ongoing opportunities for dialogue and participation. It also resolves and addresses key areas of concern identified by the AOPFN, including environmental protection, radioactive waste management, cultural protection & promotion, and, the pursuit of collaborative economic and business opportunities.

“Pikwakanagan now has a significant say in their operations, incorporating traditional knowledge and values while protecting Algonquin Rights and the environment,” said Chief Greg Sarazin. “Responsible and modernised management of existing onsite radioactive waste will be ensured, and importation of low-level radioactive waste will be limited. Given the reality of operations at CNL/AECL, this agreement is the best path forward as we seek to protect mother earth and ensure the safety of future generations.”

“This is a historic milestone in our relationship with the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan,” noted Fred Dermarkar, AECL President & CEO. “Reconciliation is a journey – and the long-term relationship agreement between AOPFN, AECL and CNL is an important step in healing as well as building trust, founded on transparency and mutual respect.”

CNL President & CEO Joe McBrearty said: “At CNL, we believe that the inclusion of Indigenous knowledge into our projects and across all of our operations will help to improve the way we do our work, and to build understanding between CNL staff and Indigenous People. That is at the heart of this agreement and CNL’s Reconciliation Action Plan, and I am incredibly excited to be working together with AECL and the AOPFN towards a shared vision for the sites that we manage.”

One focus of the agreement is a major CNL environmental remediation project - the Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF) project. This would establish a modern engineered disposal facility for low-level radioactive waste at the Chalk River Laboratories campus designed to replace temporary storage, and dispose of legacy contaminated soils and ageing infrastructure. The proposed project is currently under review by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) and is subject to federal assessment, a process which has been underway since 2017, under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

Since 2020, AECL and CNL have participated in extensive engagements with the AOPFN. As a direct result, CNL has made improvements to the project to address concerns. With those changes in place and other AOPFN conditions and commitments met by CNL, the organisations have reached agreement on the NSDF project, and the AOPFN will provide its consent to CNL and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) to move forward with the construction of the proposed facility.

The AOPFN are Algonquin peoples of the Ottawa River (Kichi-Sìbì) Valley. Algonquin people lived in the Ottawa River Valley for at least 10,000 years before Europeans arrived in North America.

The AOPFN has never ceded any traditional Algonquin territory in Treaty with the Crown. AOPFN members have, since time immemorial, exercised their rights to hunt, trap, fish, gather, and perform other activities integral to their culture and way of life throughout the unceded traditional territory, including in the area where the Chalk River Laboratories are now situated. Members of the AOPFN have long exercised governance and stewardship activities in Algonquin territory.

The AOPFN continues to exercise Algonquin aboriginal title and aboriginal rights to and in all parts of AOPFN unceded traditional territory, including lands under water. The AOPFN has an obligation to its members to plan for the future and to ensure self-determination, self-reliance, and self-governance. The AOPFN relies on the health of the environment for survival and therefore the health of the lands and waters is essential The AOPFN must be recognised as a rightful, respected, and principled steward of the environment.

AECL is a federal Crown corporation with a mandate to drive nuclear opportunities for Canada. AECL enables nuclear science and technology, owns the Chalk River Laboratories and other sites, and manages the Government of Canada’s radioactive waste responsibilities. It oversees and evaluates CNL’s work through contracts. CNL fulfils three strategic priorities of national importance – restoring and protecting the environment, advancing clean energy technologies, and contributing to the health of Canadians. CNL also serves as the nexus between government, the nuclear industry, the broader private sector and the academic community.

Image courtesy of CNL

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