Making it right when things go wrong

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We need more people like Chief Walter Naveau of Mattagami First Nation and Fire Chief Mike Benson of Gogama, Ontario. They have proven themselves as powerful advocates for local people and the environment.

These two men, among many others, have for months been lobbying the Ontario government and the Canadian National Railway Company to finish cleaning up after a derailment of at least 20 CN rail cars spilled more than a million litres of oil into the Makami River. The company had suggested that much of what had to be done in terms of clean-up had been completed and that tests showed things were good. However, local people who have travelled and fished the waterways affected, complained this past summer that there were signs of oil in the water and many fish had been found dead.

Chief Naveau, supported by his council members, Elders, staff and community members joined with Fire Chief Benson and the townspeople of Gogama in a protest this past month before Naveau and Benson brought their case directly to Ontario Environment Minister Glen Murray. Initially it seemed as though their cause had been largely sidetracked after being raised in Question Period, however a number of fateful things occurred.

Naveau and Benson met with David Suzuki, who was by chance at a nearby event. Suzuki offered to lend his voice to their cause and encouraged them to continue their efforts. Through these combined efforts, things took a turn for a solution. When they returned to their home communities a little later, CN announced it would be going ahead with the clean-up. The company confirmed that it received the necessary approvals to begin the cleaning of the oil-contaminated sediment from the bottom of the river which Mattagami and Gogama had been pushing for.

The Ontario government and in particular the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change provided the necessary action to give CN the opportunity to continue their clean-up before the waterways freeze. The work is going on now and involves local people from Mattagami and Gogama. What could have turned into an ugly confrontation between the public, government and CN has resulted in a sensible, timely and hopefully effective solution in terms of cleaning up the affected Makami River.

Rather than insisting on finding fault and continuing a confrontational approach, all parties are working on a solution to the tragic spill. Congratulations to all involved, and also a note of thanks to Wabun Tribal Council’s Shawn Batise and Jason Batise for their efforts and expertise from the time the spill first occurred. Meegwetch to all for working hard to do the right thing for the people, the water, the land and the creatures that fly, swim and walk in our pristine wilderness.

I have known Chief Naveau for many years and have learned that his passion, love and dedication to Mattagami are boundless. He constantly fights the good fight for First Nation people in his circle of Chiefs in the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation (NAN) and on the national scale with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN). When we need a voice to stand and be heard for our youth, our Elders and the land we can count on Naveau to rise bravely and speak. I have also learned that we can count on his kindness, openness and consideration for people in general and I have never seen him hold a grudge. He gets the job done and moves ahead.

We need more people like Naveau and Benson because they do the heavy lifting and help us all rise to make things right when they go wrong.

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