By John Tapley
There are many reasons to fight Walker Environmental Group’s Southwest Landfill proposal, but none more important than (protecting) water, said Maude Barlow.
“We are a world running out of clean water,” said the Canadian author and national chair of the Council of Canadians during a stop in Ingersoll on Saturday. “If we don’t protect our water, there isn’t going to be a future for life on this planet.”
Barlow was among the speakers at A River Runs Through Us – a community rally hosted by Oxford People Against the Landfill (OPAL) Alliance at the Ingersoll District Memorial Centre Arena.
George Henry, a representative and historian of the Chippewa of the Thames First Nation, Ingersoll Mayor Ted Comiskey and OPAL chair Steve McSwiggan also spoke to the crowd that numbered in the hundreds.
Walker’s landfill proposal in Zorra presents a serious threat to local groundwater sources, the Thames River “and eventually the Great Lakes,” Barlow said.
“It’s right up against people’s homes and farms,” she said. “It’s a real and present danger to drinking water and groundwater in general.”
Water is under threat around the world through displacement, pollution, mismanagement and even trade agreements, said Barlow who was the senior water adviser to the 63rd President of the United Nations General Assembly.
“We have more (fresh water) here (in Canada than other countries),” she said. “We’re more blessed than most, but instead of being cavalier, we have a responsibility (to protect the water). We’re stewards of the water.”
Barlow said there is no such thing as a landfill that doesn’t leak.
Rural communities are becoming dumping grounds for all sorts of things, she said, and a network of communities is forming across the country to “protect the right of future generations to clean air and water.”
The landfill proposal in Oxford County, Barlow said, “represents the kind of struggles that are going on in rural communities right across the country.”
She said she would like to see a new “water ethic” that “puts water at the centre of everything we do.”
“We need to ask the question, ‘What is the impact to water?’ If it’s bad, we have to stop it. We cannot put our water in jeopardy.”
That’s why Barlow said she is engaged in the fight against Walker’s Southwest Landfill proposal.
“I’m here to show total and complete support for OPAL and the people who don’t want this landfill,” she said. “You’re not alone, please get out and fight. (We) must not allow an industrial dump site to put the water at risk. We can stop this process and we can stop it now.”
George Henry said First Nations people refer to the Thames River area as “Annvisicansippi,” which means “a place to drink.”
While Canada's aboriginal people sold thousands of acres of land to the British, Henry said, “we never did sell the bed of the rivers or the creeks or the lakes.”
Pre-Confederation treaties affirm that First Nations and others in Canada are to live side by side and share natural resources, he said, which means that, under the Constitution, companies like Walker and Carmeuse have an obligation to consult First Nations people on issues like the landfill proposal.
“They have not consulted us,” Henry said. “They have to consult with us. They've got to come to us first. It's still in the treaty rights. These guys down here, they're not going to go anywhere with this dump.”
The Chippewa of the Thames are watching developments in the anti-landfill fight, Henry said, and support OPAL and anyone else in protecting the Thames.
“We could have the whole tribe here protesting (the landfill), but we don't need to do that yet,” Henry said. “We're working on it behind the scenes, getting our stuff ready.”
Henry also spoke about First Nations' view of air, water, sun and earth as sacred, cardinal forces of life and the importance of natural law.
“We need to begin to think differently. We need to think more about natural law. We need to get involved in how we treat and respect the earth,” he said.
He said it's a big fight (but) “we're not going anywhere.”
“We've been here for 500 years and our children will be educated to carry on (the fight to protect the earth).”
Henry offered words of encouragement to people at Saturday's rally.
“We're behind you on this whole thing,” he said. “I have a good feeling, with this united force you have here and the leadership of OPAL, you can't lose. You've got to stop (it) at all costs.”
OPAL chair Steve McSwiggan said communities should have the right to be willing or unwilling hosts when it comes to proposals like the Southwest landfill.
“We choose to be unwilling,” he said. “It's up to us to rise up and challenge these corporations, rise up and challenge them so they will walk away from this proposal. Sign the letters and make comment wherever you can and make the ministry (of environment) and Walker know this proposal is not welcome in Oxford.”
Taking his turn at the podium, Ingersoll Mayor Ted Comiskey took off a sweater to reveal a black T-shirt with the question, “Why risk it?” in white letters across the front.
He said landfills can be made totally unnecessary in our lifetime, “but are we doing enough?”
“There are eight strong mayors in our county and I want you to know those mayors, unanimously, don't want this to happen,” said Comiskey. “I believe we're going to succeed (in stopping the landfill). It's going to take time.”