There are more than a thousand cases of industrial pollution affecting 335 First Nations in Canada. Some of them have serious health effects. But the governments responsible have dragged their feet for decades.
Johanne Black wants to start a legend to tell future generations about the deadly arsenic in the soil and water in N’dilo, a Dene community of 200 people in the Northwest Territories. She calls it: “The Monster Underground.”
When the Giant Gold Mine opened across Great Slave Lake in 1948, nobody warned the locals that the mine was using an especially deadly form of arsenic that dissolved easily in water. Not long after the mine opened, it emitted arsenic into the air and it settled into the snow that the children played in.
English newspapers warned of contamination, but most Dene people couldn’t read these warnings. People became sick, and according to oral evidence from elder Therese Sangris, in the spring of 1951 four children died. The details of the event are recounted in a report to the federal government, based on evidence given by local elders.
Today, arsenic levels in N’dilo’s soil are still high enough to cause long term health effects, and arsenic levels near the school and some homes are more than three times the maximum level allowed for industrial land use, according to a toxicology report obtained by VICE News through access to information.
The mine had been storing 237,000 tonnes of arsenic waste in chambers underground, where it threatened disaster for decades. While the federal government is starting to remediate the Giant Mine site, neither the Northwest Territories government nor the federal government have committed to cleaning up N’dilo or compensating its people for the mine’s effects. N’dilo’s story may sound extreme, but they are not alone.
In June, VICE News began looking for cases of pollution affecting First Nations after Grassy Narrows finally convinced Ontario to clean up a river system that, in the 1960s, had been contaminated with mercury dumped by a pulp and paper mill. That had poisoned the fish and, in turn, the people who ate them. It took decades of public pressure for Ontario to commit funding for the cleanup — even after a former worker came forward to say he had buried barrels of mercury in the area.
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