Fresh Sheets

A portfolio of writing by Tamara Neely.

It takes a village March 9, 2013

Filed under: art,First Nations,lifestyle — Tamara Neely @ 04:59

As nine-year-old Alexis Crystal Jim focuses on picking up a brilliant blue bead with her sewing needle and fastening it to a piece of hide, the women several decades older than her chat and laugh and sew. And as the time flies by, the little girl soaks up traditional knowledge and the Southern Tutchone language spoken around her. There, among women supporting her – and supporting each other – she’s also learning about the warm comfort of her kin.2013-02-21 FN sewing lower res

Jim comes with her grandmother to the sewing group, which takes place every Monday and Wednesday at the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations (CAFN) administration building in downtown Whitehorse. The sewing and language class is free to all CAFN members and their families.

Val Fromme is not of First Nation heritage, but her husband is. And so are their children. She feels at home in the sewing circle and over the past few years she has been learning the First Nation style of beadwork.

On Feb. 13 she once again joined the six women at the table for the class she has become so fond of.

“I really like the end product and the process, but I particularly like hanging out with these women and listening to their stories and learning these new techniques of sewing,” Fromme says.

Jim’s grandmother, Bertha Moose, is an instructor of the sewing group, along with Lorraine Allen.

“They give us this space to revitalize the First Nation traditional artwork,” Allen says. She points to Jim, pulling thread through the thick hide. “She’s learning. And she does a good job.”

Jim’s first project was a beaded leather cardholder for bankcards and such. She gave that one to her Mom, now she’s making one for her aunt and her plan is to make another for her grandmother.

“Then I’m going to sell them,” she says. “I like making projects. It’s fun.”

“It’s good to see younger kids sew,” Moose says. “That’s how young we started sewing. I’ve been sewing for a long time. I was taught by my grandmother and my mother.”

Then the knowledge started missing generations.

Tina Grant is of Champagne heritage and her great grandmother used to make beadwork, but she just picked up beading four years ago.

And she’s picked it up in a big way. She has exhausted the local supplies of bead colours and has been ordering them through the internet to get an inspiring new array.

“I’ve invested a lot of money in beads, but I’ve given a lot away as gifts,” she says. “But when I see my work, it gives me more money to buy more beads.”

For Grant beading is not about tapping into the culture of her family, rather, it’s a hypnotic way to pass the time – and create something useful and beautiful.

“It’s just a hobby,” Grant says. “I enjoy it; it relaxes me. I really love sewing and beading and being productive.”

Three years ago the class started with beginners and now the women are not only giving away their work as handsome gifts, but also selling it and taking custom orders.

The free sewing and language class meets every Monday and Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the CAFN administration building in downtown Whitehorse.

 Published in What’s Up Yukon on February 21, 2013

Capturing shoppers’ hearts five bucks at a time

Filed under: art — Tamara Neely @ 04:19
Tags: ,

It’s not easy for a nine-year-old to make money in this world says Oliver Flegel’s mom. But the Christmas season proved lucrative for the young entrepreneur, whose income has been of the $1-per-chore variety.

On Nov. 24, however, Flegel walked away from the KIAC Christmas Arts and Craft Fair in Dawson City with $150 in hand and the kind of confidence that comes from a line-up of customers wanting a hand-drawn portrait.2013-01-17 Oliver_portrait lower res

Turns out his portraits were finding their way into people’s hearts, five bucks at a time – six bucks if they opted for one of three background designs that cost extra.

ODD Gallery director Evan Rensch is a customer who commissioned Flegel to do a portrait of himself and his girlfriend, Elaine Cordon, at the fair.

“We don’t have any photos of ourselves together, but we do have a portrait by Oliver,” says Rensch. “We’d like to get it framed one day.”

For now it’s stored in an envelope. He’s tempted to put it on the fridge, but doesn’t want to get any schmutz on it.

Rensch appreciates the effort Flegel put into the portraits.

“He was really concentrated,” Rensch says. “He moved his pen really slowly, then back-tracked, then erased a bit… It was very considered, I would say.”

It’s a meaningful compliment when the director of an art gallery appreciates one’s work.

However, Flegel started out the day with trepidation rather than confidence, his mother Janice Cliff says. Together the pair prepared for exposing their art to the public: Flegel with photos and portraits, Cliff with photo-based artwork.

“On the morning of the craft fair he had a moment of panic and said, ‘What if no one wants a portrait done?’” says Cliff. “I know the feeling. I had a twinge of it myself.”

But soon a customer came, then another, and at one point there was a line-up.

“I think it says a lot about our community that they’re 100 per cent supportive of kids’ initiatives,” Cliff says.

The demand surprised Flegel.

“When I looked at the portraits after, I didn’t really like them,” he says. “I thought I could do better. But when everyone started coming in and wanting one, I realized I’m a kid and this is how kids draw.”

After completing 20 portraits and earning $150, Flegel and his mom headed home.

While pondering what to do with the money, Cliff learned about an initiative to raise money for a family friend diagnosed with breast cancer and discussed it with her son.

Flegel offered to donate $100 to the cause, his mom reduced it to $25 and Flegel counter-offered $30. Nevertheless, Cliff made arrangements to donate $25. Her motivation was to teach Flegel about money: about  saving, as well as earning and sharing .

For Flegel, making the donation made him feel good.

“There was a girl, she was just about to have a baby and she was diagnosed with breast cancer and I decided to donate money to her, because my friend Jonathan’s mother just died of breast cancer and I don’t want that to happen to my mom’s friend, her husband or the baby,” Flegel says. “And the money is to help her heal and to buy a wig, because your hair falls out when you get cancer.”

And what’s next for Flegel? The craft fair turned out to be a good networking experience, too. Flegel was offered a part in his 11-year-old friend Jack’s musical, which is in the works.

Published in What’s Up Yukon on January 17, 2013


Sorting Calgary’s recyclable goods March 26, 2011

Filed under: Environment,lifestyle — Tamara Neely @ 05:04

It was a bizarre switch in 2009 to start throwing all of our recycling together in one bin.

Recyclable materials are dumped on the sorting floor of the City of Calgary's material recycling facility (MRF).

After all, many of us once believed that in order for the City of Calgary to recycle, materials had to be separated into plastics, paper, metal and glass.

And after all of this packaging is trucked to the material recovery facility (MRF), the trip a yogurt container takes from your home sink to being made into a lawn chair is actually a fascinating one.

The motivation to recycle comes from the city’s goal to drastically reduce the amount of waste heading to landfills to 20 per cent by 2020. In 2003, when that goal was presented to council, 80 per cent of the waste generated across the city was going to landfill. And a recent study has revealed that last year, waste going to landfill was down to 61 per cent.

To reach the 20 per cent goal by 2020, businesses, schools and construction developments will have to change some of their ways. That group accounts for two-thirds of waste generated in Calgary, and there are no statistics on how much they’re currently recycling.

As the city staff and council contemplate how to divert more garbage from Calgary’s dumps, robotics plug away to prepare our recyclable goods for global markets.


A 30-square-metre building in southeast Calgary, the MRF has a massive system of conveyor belts with spinning discs, air jets, magnets and robotic cameras. Staff at either end of the conveyor system are responsible for quality control, but otherwise the recycling goods are separated by a miraculous feat of physics, engineering and computer programming.

Once the piles of materials on the conveyor belt pass a human checkpoint, robotics take over by distinguishing the physical properties of paper, glass, plastic and metal.

A series of rotating discs allows paper to float over top and carry on, while containers and cans and other such objects fall through open spaces.

Several cameras along the conveyor belt register items passing underneath and trigger air jets to blow the different objects down their respective off-chutes.

These optical sorters are so smart that not only do they recognize the difference between a soup can and a toilet paper roll, but they also classify different types of plastics, from type one through to seven.

Next along the line, a large magnet pulls metal food cans out of the system — except for aluminum cans, which are immune to magnets.

The geniuses behind the robotic system worked with the physical properties of non-ferrous metals such as aluminum to create a different method of separating them. Legg says they use computer-driven equipment to change the magnetic field and create what’s called an “eddy current,” which punts aluminum cans off of the conveyor belt and down their own chute.

At the end of the line, staff find very little that is in the wrong place.

“It works really well,” said Legg. “It’s a neat process, I must say.”

In 2008, the year before the city launched its curbside pickup program for recycled goods, some 41,000 tons of recycled goods was sold to market. Last year, that number had increased to 70,000 tons.

And, for the most part, Calgarians understand which materials can be recycled. “Eight to 10 per cent of the stuff that comes into the MRF are unacceptable items,” says Parnell Legg, a waste diversion specialist for the city. “It’s stuff like household hazardous waste, scrap metal like frying pans and wire hangers.”


Dave Griffiths, Calgary’s director of waste and recycling services, says the large chunk of organic waste has prompted the city to consider a pilot composting pickup program next year.

The city is also turning its attention to the 158,000 apartments, townhouses and condominiums — 35 per cent of all homes — that don’t receive recycling pickup service from the city.

Also on the city’s radar are the two biggest garbage-makers: of the 650,000 tons of waste produced in 2010, one-third came from the industrial, commercial and institutional sector and another one-third came from the construction and demolition sector. The city recently started a recycling pilot program to divert asphalt shingles, drywall and non-treated wood from the dump.

“When you build an average North American home — and this is true in Calgary — that will generate five tons of waste,” says Griffiths. “When people move in, they won’t contribute that much waste for six years.”

Although Calgary is introducing new recycling programs, it certainly has a lot of catching up to do with other Canadian cities. Edmonton, for example, boasts a current diversion rate of 60 per cent with the goal of reaching 90 per cent by the time Calgary assesses its composting pilot program.


Published March 17, 2011 in Fast Forward Weekly.


Entrepreneurs catering to growing ex-pat population

Filed under: lifestyle — Tamara Neely @ 03:08

There is a growing population of United Kingdom expatriates in Okotoks yearning for a taste of home, be it a bag of Bassett’s Jelly Babies or a package of Jammie Dogers.

Fortunately for them several businesses in the foothills are catering to this niche market. Businesses such as Sandul’s Pharmacy in Black Diamond and the newly launched know there are no substitutes for such things as Spotted Dick sponge cake or Worchester flavoured crisps. Similar foods found in Canada simply don’t taste the same leaving the Brits longing for their own version.

“Heinz Baked Beans taste completely different in Canada than in England,” said Tracy Hardy, who left England two years ago to move to Okotoks, “and Cadbury Dairy Milk, the one in England is sweeter.”

Hardy launched the home-based internet shopping website this fall to satisfy the growing expatriate community’s pangs for snacks from the United Kingdom (UK).

“I know there are a lot of us because when you go to the supermarket, every other voice you hear is English,” said Hardy. “I don’t know why we all came here, but we’re either in Okotoks or Cochrane.”

Hardy’s business is a newcomer on what has been a booming business catering to the UK crowd.

Sandul’s Pharmacy in Black Diamond has an aisle dedicated to British goods; Your Dollar Store With More in Okotoks carries British candies; and the Safeway in Okotoks carries Marmite – a brown, yeast-based spread eaten with bread.

Mike Harrison, who has lived in Okotoks through three decades but is originally from Cockney London, said the fact you can buy Marmite at Safeway adds to Okotoks’ charms. As a matter of fact, if he couldn’t get Marmite here, he’d have to move, he said.

“I’m addicted,” he said. “A year or so ago Safeway decided they weren’t going to carry it anymore and there was almost a riot. They were inundated with complaints from Brits.”

People either love Marmite or hate it, Harrison said. For those who love it, discovering a source of Marmite can be life-changing.

Rose Sandul has witnessed that kind of joy.

She has seen expatriates find treats they used to have when they were children, sitting on the Sandul’s Pharmacy shelves in Black Diamond.

When they find such things as Twiglets, which are wheat-based chips with a yeast-extract flavour similar to Marmite, they are overjoyed and often quickly call their friends to tell them about what treasure they have found.

“People are so excited, they get on their cell phones and phone friends and relatives and say, ‘Did you know you can get this here?’” said Sandul. “It’s a really neat feeling and we get to see them month after month as they come to pick up some more.”

Sandul was born in Ireland and moved to Canada at age eight, so she knows first hand what it’s like to yearn for treats from the UK.

But not every treat.

“People like Twiglets and they taste terrible,” said Sandul. “Twiglets have a Marmite taste to them, so people either love them or hate them.

“And pickled walnuts, I’ve opened a jar myself – they look like little brains. I wouldn’t eat them.”

Other treats will satisfy the Brits’ hankerings and appeal to Canadian palates, too. Treats such as Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate bar, which tastes significantly different than the version made in Canada.

“I think they put a lot more sugar and a lot more cream in – I think that’s why it tastes so good,” said Sandul.

English expatriate Dean Hudson has noticed the difference and it is a powerful difference. So much so he has spent “a fortune” on having friends and family bring chocolate and other goodies over to Canada when they come to visit.

“My dad comes over here twice per year for three weeks at a time and he leaves his clothes here and fills his suitcase with Galaxy Double Deckers and Cadbury’s Milk Buttons,” said Hudson.

With local businesses catering to his fancy, and family members following the Hudsons to Okotoks, the UK doesn’t hold much of a draw anymore.

“I won’t be going back again,” said Hudson. “There’s nothing there for me, apart from the chocolate. And the soccer.”


Published December 15, 2010 in the Okotoks Western Wheel.


Seniors need lovin’ too

Filed under: health,love,seniors,sex — Tamara Neely @ 03:00
Tags: , , ,

Senior citizens want the rest of us to know that the desire to smooch, cuddle and have sex never ends — and we should quit being squeamish about old-timers getting some loving.

George Hopkins, 81, performs with Seniors A GOGO. photo by Tamara Neely

If everyone can relax about it, then residents of seniors’ lodges won’t feel ashamed for having sleepovers down the hall and they won’t feel ashamed about asking their doctors for an HIV test.

A widespread squeamishness when it comes to talking about sex among oldsters may be to blame for a deadly situation.

“New HIV infections in the over 50 age group were 6.5 per cent in 1995 and 13.5 per cent in 2005,” says Nicole Hergert, community development manager for the Calgary Sexual Health Centre. “So we can infer that the HIV rates have doubled in 10 years.”

Hergert says those figures, which are from the Public Health Agency of Canada, point to the need for the old and young to get comfortable talking about sex.

“The numbers we have for HIV rates are an indicator about our comfort rate about talking about sexuality,” says Hergert. “It’s complex, but in part, if we’re not comfortable talking about sex and sexuality then we’re not comfortable talking to people about how to prevent sexually transmitted infections — and then we see an increase in STIs.”

“It’s all well and good if someone 50 and over is comfortable talking about sex, but if they try to go to their doctor and their doctor is not comfortable talking about it, then they’re no better off.”

Enter a seniors theatre troupe that is trying to change the way everyone thinks about sex among the old-timers.

Until December 9, the Seniors a GOGO are performing frank and funny monologues about their own personal experiences to try and crack open the subject of sex among the 60-to-100-plus age group. The troupe was created by the Calgary Sexual Health Centre, the Seniors Action Group and The Foundation Lab to address seniors’ sexuality, and it shows how to prevent sexually transmitted infections.

George Hopkins, an 81-year-old performer with Seniors a GOGO, says sex wasn’t talked about when he was growing up. He learned about it on the farm.

But now Hopkins has opened up about sex. He talks to audiences about such things as trying to open condom packages, discovering lube and how the animals’ sex lives compared to his own.

“The turkeys and the chickens didn’t impress me much as sexual performers, but the cows, horses and pigs — they knew what it was all about and it was a joy to behold,” Hopkins told an audience at the public library in Shawnessy on November 19. “When I look back, I’m amazed my wife has been with me for 57 years. I didn’t have the manhood of the stallion, the lasting quality of the boar or the reloading ability of the bull, but I can honestly say I had more fun than all of them.”

Through laughs and tender moments, Hopkins and the other Seniors a GOGO performers convey the message that we need to recognize that sexuality is part of being human and that physical affection brings joy to life at any age.

The troupe also wants the under-60 crowd to consider that if we can start being supportive of the sexto-, septua- and octogenarians (and older) having sex, then by the time we find ourselves in seniors’ lodges maybe we’ll be able to have shame-free sex in our golden years, too.

“How you react now paves the way for the future,” Amalia Tauber, an 84-year-old member of Seniors a GOGO, pointed out to the audience. “With any luck, you, too, will grow old and have a rich and full life with intimate relationships.”

The Calgary Sexual Health Centre is working with nurses, social workers and care providers, including seniors lodge supervisors, to address concerns about seniors’ sexuality.

Policies surrounding supporting seniors’ sexual expression vary among the assisted living lodges. Hergert says the public care provider Carewest is among the most progressive with its policies on supporting sexuality.

Marlene Collins, the chronic care director with Carewest, says that they view sexuality as a normal part of living — and that includes sleepovers among lodge residents.

“Our role is to offer non-judgmental, supportive care to residents,” she says. “There will be provision of private time and space for intimacy and sexual expression.”

However, Collins, Hergert and the Seniors a GOGO members all said that different staff members in different lodges across the city, private and public, have varying comfort levels with sexuality.

How a staff member feels about physical affection among seniors can mean the difference between putting the bed rails up to help a set of cuddlers be safe or having a gut reaction of scorn, prompting one of the cuddlers to head back to his or her own room.

For gay and lesbian seniors, the prospect of trying to express love in a seniors’ lodge is a bigger obstacle. Public displays of affection among homosexuals are not yet common outside of a lodge, let alone inside a lodge.

Del, a 60-year-old troupe member who has asked that her last name not be published, says as a lesbian she is on a mission to stay out of a seniors lodge.

“My greatest fear is to be in a place like that and have a man make an advance on me — and to be cared for by people who don’t understand (my sexuality),” she says. “So I’m staying healthy so I don’t have to go in there.”


Published December 9, 2010 in the Fast Forward Weekly.


Chemicals in water may harm humans, say researchers October 28, 2010

The amount of pesticides, hormones and other chemicals in Alberta’s rivers are causing scientists to fear not only for fish populations, but also for the future of human health.

University of Calgary researcher Hamid Habibi says chemicals in Alberta's waterways are affecting fish reproduction and he is concerned humans could be affected in the same way. photo by Tamara Neely

Studies conducted on rivers in the MD of Foothills and across southern Alberta show chemical runoff from residential lawns, agriculture operations and cattle feedlots as well as chemicals that pass through municipal water treatment plants are causing reproductive problems in fish.

Researchers at the Universities of Calgary and Lethbridge are conducting studies to look at the chemical impacts on Alberta waterways. “There is clear evidence that there are chemical pollutants leaching into the water system and they adversely affect animal health and they could potentially affect human health,” said Hamid Habibi, a professor in the U of C department of Biological Sciences.

Habibi has been sampling water from various rivers in Alberta, including from the Bow River at the Policeman’s Flats area near Heritage Pointe northeast of Okotoks.

Habibi said the problem is many chemicals mimic a hormone naturally occurring in humans and animals and are

able to enter the body and effect functions.

According to his studies, pesticide, antibiotics, hormones, pharmaceuticals and other chemicals in the rivers affect fish’s systems because they act like estrogen.

Since estrogen governs various physical functions the chemicals are able to be active in the animal and the high levels of estrogen are causing alarming problems.

The effects on fish he has documented are low sperm count, the feminization of fish, meaning an abnormally high amount of female fish offspring and fetuses developing abnormal sex organs, such as small penises and testes.

“These chemicals can interfere with normal hormone activity either by mimicking hormones and over-stimulating them or by blocking them,” said Habibi.

Habibi’s research has focused on fish, but his concern is humans could also experience the same problems.

“We do see this in animals, but it has to be studied in humans,” said Habibi. “A lot of factors that affect sexual development in animals are the same in humans. It’s plausible that this could happen in humans.

“If a human fetus is exposed to too much estrogen it causes abnormality.”

Runoff from agriculture industry

Habibi’s research has shown that pesticides, antibiotics and other drugs are downstream from agricultural

operations despite Provincial regulations in place to prevent runoff.

“Lots of pharmaceuticals end up in the environment because feedlots’ cattle are given antibiotics and other drugs,” said Habibi. “The cattle’s urine and feces ends up in the water, rain washes things into the river.”

Rainwater and irrigation also washes pesticides and herbicides from cropland into the river.

“We have definitive evidence showing if you go to riverbanks along farms these chemicals are present,” said Habibi. “Once into the river they cause harmful effects on animal populations and if it is a drinking water source for another community it could potentially cause a problem (for humans). The big problem is that water treatment plants are not capable of removing them.”

Habibi said Provincial guidelines for preventing runoff need to be tightened, but more research needs to be done to provide direction.

Karen Yakimishyn, a livestock environmental engineer for Alberta Agriculture, said there are no numbers on how little or how much runoff may be entering waterways from feedlots in the province, but the regulations are in place to ensure the agricultural industry is sustainable.

 “It’s about ensuring our industry is just. One of the reasons for doing that is we have to be environmentally   sound, because if not, we wouldn’t have an industry,” said Yakimishyn.

Some of the restrictions cover how manure is stored, methods of catching runoff, for example catch basins, and

the amount of fresh water applied to the feedlot property, which is intended to restrict the amount of nutrients from manure which could possibly run off.

“Feedlots have to have runoff control systems,” said Yakimishyn. “We want to protect surface water bodies and


One method of dealing with the manure produced at feedlots is to apply it to crops, but Monica Langfield, the

general manager of farming and natural resources for Western Feedlots, said it is unlikely manure applied to

fields is washed into waterways.

“On our land we follow regulations strictly. I don’t believe any nutrients end up in the waterways. The regulations are there for a reason and that’s why we follow them,” said Langfield.

Once per year Western Feedlots conducts tests on their catch basins and to ensure manure is not leeching

into ponds or the water wells of surrounding neighbours.

“We water test on an annual basis,” said Langfield. “We test for human consumption and cattle consumption (standards) – so all kinds of E. coli, bacteria and that kind of thing.”

They don’t test for antibiotics, however, Langfield said little manure goes into the catch basin.

“We have had an environmental impact strategy in place since 1993. The goal is to contain all runoff from Western Feedlots,” said Langfield.


Chemicals passing through sewage treatment plants

Habibi determined that the greatest change that needs to happen is municipalities need to change their water and

sewage treatment plants.

Many chemicals are passing through the sewage treatment processes and affecting fish, he said.

He is involved with a new research project that has been awarded more than $10 million by the federal government to look at ways of improving water treatment plants.

Habibi said four years ago the Province agreed to match the grant, but the research has not been able to proceed because they have not been awarded the funding.

The project is important, he said, because studies have shown as municipalities flush their treated effluent back into the into the water system antibiotics, female hormones and more pharmaceuticals are being released with it.

He explained that pharmaceuticals ingested by humans pass through urine into the sewage system and are not removed before entering the waterways.

“The body is not able to completely remove it and degrade it, a good example is birth control pills — the estrogen ends up in urine. It’s not broken down,” said Habibi.

“One of the most important steps is to improve treatment plants so they can remove these contaminants.”

Habibi is concerned about the effects on the body when  multiple chemicals are in the water. The problem is not just pesticide, or antibiotics it’s all the other chemicals they are finding in the water.

“We’re dealing with thousands of chemicals (from a variety of industries and sources). This is the tip of an

iceberg and we’ve started looking at this seriously,” said Habibi.

Ed Spohr, site manager for the water and sewage treatment plants for Okotoks, confirmed that estrogen is not removed during treatment processing of sewage.

“There would have to be a chemical treatment process — it couldn’t be filtered out. Most places don’t do that,” said Spohr.

Habibi’s research is showing pesticides also act like estrogen.

The Town of Okotoks has been working to limit the amount of pesticides that enter the rivers through controlling

the amount they spray on Town land and by changing the requirements for storm sewers.

“We’re trying to reduce our use of insecticides and fertilizers to minimize the loading of these chemicals into the river,” said Dave Robertson, operations manager for the Town.

“Many of them are hazardous to health — humans’ and animals’ — if they’re not managed properly. They run

off your property into the storm sewer and eventually into the river and ecosystem where the fish pick it up — it’s a whole chain of events.”

Robertson said in an effort to reduce the Town’s chemical use they no longer spray herbicide on dandelions and each year they receive calls from residents complaining about dandelion blooms.

“We try to manage (dandelions) by trimming more frequently — that’s part of the plan to reduce chemical use,”

said Robertson. “With chemicals such as Killex and 2,4-D you have to be aware — where do you think it’s going to go?”

Robertson said if there is heavy rainfall after residents spray chemicals on their lawns, those chemicals will be washed into the storm water system.

Forty per cent of the neighbourhoods have the old style of storm water drainage which feeds directly into the


The other 60 per cent of neighbourhoods have been developed with the new system, which collects storm water in a pond before flowing into the river.

Lars Brinkmann, a researcher at the University of Lethbridge, said homeowners need to realize while scientists

are trying to define all the harmful effects of pesticides and other chemicals, homeowners are spraying a variety

of chemicals that are washed into the storm water drainage.

“People don’t realize where the water running into their street sewer goes. Out of sight, out of mind. They think it’s gone,” said Brinkmann. “These issues are being discussed by scientists, but when you talk to homeowners they say, ‘My neighbour is doing it, too. Why shouldn’t I do it?’”

Brinkmann said they have identified specific effects of specific chemicals on fish and plant life, but the question of how harmful all the chemicals mixing like a soup in the river is still unknown.

When compounded chemicals are ingested by fish or humans, for example, the effect could be much worse than scientists currently know and more research needs to be done.

Published in the Okotoks Western Wheel August 19, 2009


A source of conflict: Book details First Nations’ struggle with tainted water

Filed under: First Nations — Tamara Neely @ 00:12
Tags: , , , ,

One out of every six First Nations people living on reserves can’t drink the tap water.

Author: Merrell-Ann S. Phare

It is too polluted, according to the author of a new book about indigenous people’s water rights in Canada.

 If one out of every six Canadians in our cities and towns had to buy bottled water because the tap water was brown and stunk, there would be outrage. However, as of June, the Canadian government reported 110 First Nations communities in Canada are under a “drinking water advisory” and many have been for years.

In Denying the Source: The Crisis of First Nations Water Rights, author Merrell-Ann S. Phare explores the problems First Nations face with contaminated drinking water, and the web of reasons why change isn’t happening.

Phare lays out the complex problems in an invitingly small book. Denying the Source is only the size of a daytimer, so wading into the issue isn’t too intimidating. She explains, in simple terms, that a big part of the reason that some First Nations communities have had to buy bottled water for 10 years is that there is no clear jurisdiction over the water.

 Provinces govern water allocation off reserves and have no jurisdiction on reserves, she explains. Treaties don’t specifically include water rights, but they also don’t specifically exclude them either.

As well, First Nations can’t look to the federal government for clarity. First, Ottawa does not govern water-use rights. Second, the Canadian government is not an advocate of water being a basic human right. In 2008, Canada successfully argued against the United Nations Human Rights Council’s attempt to declare it as such.

Phare points to the Supreme Court of Canada as a source of hope, however. The court has a track record of making decisions in support of First Nations access to potable water as well as access to water for agricultural and industrial needs.

 At the heart of the issue is the question of First Nations’ right to water; what legal grounds to use as leverage, balancing limited water with the rest of Canada’s needs, and the importance of maintaining enough water in rivers and lakes to support ecosystems.

 Phare points out that the Canadian approach to water as a commodity adds to the problems. First Nations fundamental law is stewardship for the Earth and water, so Canadian laws and First Nations laws are at odds. It will take effort on both sides to come to an agreement, but it can be done, according to Phare.

Both government agencies and First Nations agencies recognize there is a need to change the current system.

  Two years ago the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) chose six reserves in unique geographical situations and sampled the water. The AFN found that the water in every one of those reserves was either tainted with uranium, had unacceptable levels of disease-causing bacteria or came out of the tap brown and stinking. In addition, all six reserves showed “disturbingly high rates of cancer and evidence of fish deformities.”

 Phare’s book also includes examples of court decisions awarding First Nations access to ample clean water. So instead of seeing the issue as a quagmire without hope, Phare views it as a problem that can be solved, but one that requires empathy from fellow Canadians.

Published in Fast Forward Weekly on February 25, 2010