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Campaign targeted on proposed Shell tar sands crude oil refinery on the St. Clair River

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Akii Kwe: Earth Women of Bkejwanong  Territory 

Campaign targeted on proposed Shell tar sands crude oil refinery on the St. Clair River

Attention News Editors  

For Immediate Release  

Proposed Shell Refinery on the St. Clair River ? Traditional Aboriginal Ceremony at Seager Park on May 21st in Support of Campaign for a Panel Study Environmental Assessment  

May 20, 2008. Walpole Island First Nation, Ontario, Canada.  On Wednesday, May 21, 2008 from 12 noon to 1 PM, Akii Kwe, a women’s group from Walpole Island First Nation, will be hosting a traditional aboriginal ceremony at Seager Park near Courtright, Ontario on the Canadian shore of the St. Clair River, across from East China Township, Michigan. 

The women of Akii Kwe are supporting a grassroots campaign to have the Canadian government subject Shell Canada to the highest level of environmental assessment under Canadian law for the review of its proposed tar sands crude oil refinery on the St. Clair River.  Akii Kwe, the “Earth Women” of Bkejwanong Territory, are the great grandmothers, grandmothers, mothers and daughters from Walpole Island First Nation who have taken on the responsibility of protecting the environment in the area. 

Shell Canada is proposing to build a large refinery complex upstream from Walpole Island, on Walpole Island traditional territory and land claims.  The land for the proposed refinery is home to wildlife and plants valued and used by First Nations people. The land also has archeological, historical and spiritual significance to First Nations people.  

“Shell Canada’s environmental assessment process has failed to address the land, water, human health, and aboriginal issues raised by Akii Kwe,” said Myrna Kicknosway, spokesperson for Akii Kwe. “We are  responsible for caring for the children and future generations.  The Canadian government is responsible for caring for environmental assessments.  Our First Nation Government is responsible under our laws to care for our traditional territory.  We want this environmental assessment to answer all of our questions before Shell gets any approvals to build its refinery.  We want this environmental assessment done properly so that it can help us protect our children and future generations.” 

During the traditional ceremony at Seager Park, Walpole Island community members will be planting trees to commemorate the endangered and threatened tree species that will be removed if Shell’s current plans are allowed to proceed.  The idea for the ceremony came from Kicknowsway’s teenage son, Ben, who has been actively participating in community meetings about the proposed refinery.   

If Shell’s refinery is approved, Seager Park will be adjacent to the refinery complex and lay between a new dock for shipping petroleum hydrocarbon products and a “heavy haul ramp” on the St. Clair River.  

Seager Park has one of the only publicly accessible sandy beaches on the Canadian side of the St. Clair River. 

The trees to be planted include endangered butternut trees, a species that has a significant connection to aboriginal communities.  Butternut tree sap is used for medicines, its wood is renowned for carving, and its nuts provide cooking oil and a delicious addition to traditional foods.  Butternuts are a key tree species in traditional aboriginal agroforestry practices. Shell’s current site plans will see the elimination of several endangered butternut trees within a provincially significant wetland at the centre of its refinery site. 

Shell Canada’s proposed refinery is to include crude oil processing facilities, tank farms and storage facilities, a new electricity generation plant, hazardous waste management facilities, a massive petroleum coke storage facility, and a large new dock to help service 870 ships carrying petroleum products for Shell each year.  With the new refinery, Shell would be responsible for generating 12% of the total annual shipping traffic in this area of the St. Clair River.    

The Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing is proposing to provide Shell with a ministerial zoning order to zone lands it has under option for an industrial refinery.  Walpole Island First Nation is concerned that this ministerial zoning order will bypass good planning processes that allow for public review and appeals to the Ontario Municipal Board if there are outstanding issues.  Walpole Island First Nation is also concerned that the ministerial zoning order will pre-judge the outcome of Shell’s environmental assessment by determining that the lands Shell has under option are suitable for a refinery. 

“We feel that only an independent panel study, with full public hearings and First Nations representation on the panel can provide an environmental assessment that will give us the protection we need,” said Kicknosway.  “This refinery project has too many risks for the water, too many risks for the air, too many risks for the land, too many risks to the plants and animals, too many risks for future generations and too much uncertainty about what will be built and how it will operate.  Shell’s environmental assessment work is not providing us with the certainty we need.  The process is going too fast and Shell’s reports are missing many important facts, including specific details on pollution control,” she added. 

Kicknosway encourages people interested in seeing the highest level of environmental assessment to write letters to the Canadian government before May 26th, 2008.  She provides the following instructions to people who wish to send an email or write a letter requesting an independent panel study: 

• Send your emails and letters before May 26th, 2008 

• When you write, make sure you request a “Panel Study” environmental assessment 

• Identify your address 

• Say why you have an interest in seeing a First Nation representative on the panel that conducts the environmental assessment for the proposed Shell refinery project on the St. Clair River 

• Quote the project title “Proposed Refinery Development (Courtright Site), Shell Canada Products.”    

• Send your email or letter to: Transport Canada – Environment and Engineering, 4900 Yonge Street, 4th Floor, Toronto, ON  M2N 6A5  Canada.  Fax: 1-416-952-0514  Email: [email protected] 

• Send copies of your letters and emails to:  

o Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Office of the Prime Minister, 80 Wellington Street, Ottawa, Ontario  K1A 0A2 Canada. Fax: 1-613-941-6900, E-mail: [email protected] 

o Premier Dalton McGuinty, Legislative Building, Queen’s Park, Toronto Ontario  M7A 1A1 Canada.  Fax: 1-416-325-3745.  Email: [email protected] 

o Your MPP and your MP 

o Your mayor or First Nation Chief 

For further information: Myrna Kicknosway, Spokesperson, Akii Kwe – 519?627?8365 

Directions to Seager Park 

From Michigan – East China, St. Clair, Marine City, Algonac, Detroit – Take the Marine City-Sombra Ferry.  Turn left onto the St. Clair Parkway and head north for about 8 miles.  Seager Park is on the St. Clair River, just after Bickford Line. 

From Michigan – Port Huron area – Take the Bluewater Bridge to the Front Street exit toward downtown Sarnia.  Follow Front Street to London Road.  Turn left on London Road.  Follow London Road for about 4 miles and turn right onto Vidal Street North.  Continue on to County Rd. 33/River Road/St. Clair Parkway for about 10 miles through the town of Courtright.  Seager Park is on the St. Clair River, just after Oil Springs Line and the Lambton Generating Station. 

From Sarnia area – Take Vidal Street North.  Continue on to County Rd. 33/River Road/St. Clair Parkway for about 10 miles through the town of Courtright.  Seager Park is on the St. Clair River, just after Oil Springs Line and the Lambton Generating Station. 

From Chatham/Wallaceburg area – Take Highway 40 to Bickford Line.  Turn right on Bickford Line.

Continue on Bickford Line for about 3.5 km.  Turn right onto the St. Clair Parkway.  Seager Park is on the St. Clair River, just after Bickford Line. 

About Akii Kwe: 

Symbolically, water is viewed as the blood of the Earth Mother; the rivers, streams and groundwater are viewed as the Earth Mother’s veins which carry nourishment to all her living parts and which sustain her. 

Because of its power, water is viewed as sacred and must be kept pure.  Female beings are believed to be the corporeal manifestations of the Earth Mother and share many qualities with her, such as spiritual power and the ability to create life.  Women are the keepers of the water.  This cultural tradition is maintained at Walpole Island by the women’s group, Akii Kwe, the “Earth Women” of Bkejwanong Territory.  The group works tirelessly to promote awareness of environmental issues at the local, national and international level. The women’s commitment to preserving and maintaining the earth’s lands and waters for future generations represents an important form of local environmental activism in the Walpole Island First Nation community. 

About Walpole Island First Nation and the Environment:  

Walpole Island First Nation is world-renowned for its ecological diversity. The island’s wetlands, tall grass prairies and oak savannahs are home to many species of endangered plants and wildlife. The community supports a profitable sports fishing and hunting economy, and local game and fish continue to constitute an important part of the local diet.  Environmental contaminants are considered a major threat to the island’s ecosystem and food supply.   The growth of many of the island’s rare and endangered plant species are actively monitored through community-based initiatives funded by Environment Canada’sHabitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk.   

The Walpole Island First Nation community is located in the heart of the Lake St. Clair water system and downstream from Sarnia Ontario’s “Chemical Valley”. Over several decades, large amounts of toxic substances have been released into the St. Clair River in the form of accidental spills and allowable discharges permitted by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment.  There have been dozens of major chemical spills as well as hundreds of minor spills responsible for the discharge of more than ten tonnes of pollutants into the St. Clair River in past decades.   

Water contamination and ecological degradation continue to threaten the livelihood of Walpole island community members.  “Traditional economies” have evolved into modern, multi-million dollar industries. The value of natural resources is measured economically by the many employment opportunities that are connected to hunting and fishing (e.g. hunting club employees and guides), in addition to groceries, suppliers and outfitters, restaurant meals, lodging, transportation, sales of native crafts, commercial and sports fishing and trapping. Reliance on natural resources and economies also helps to sustain traditions and cultural continuity. The adverse effects of water and land pollution would affect both the economic viability and social cohesion of the Walpole Island First Nation community.  

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