Sharing the vision: Stewards of our heritage
The people of the Anishnawbek Nation have lived on these lands [in the Algoma region] as far back in time as the legends which have been passed down from one generation to another. They established permanent settlements in the region because of the abundance of fish and wildlife. The lands and waterways remained virtually undisturbed by mining until 1953, when the Algoma region became the world’s largest uranium find.
Twelve mines were quickly developed and 25,000 people moved into the region to occupy lands previously known only to the people of the Serpent River First Nation. For more than 40 years, the economy of Elliot Lake, the Township of the North Shore and the Serpent River First Nation was driven by the mining industry. During the early years, the Serpent River Watershed, the lifeblood of the region, suffered extensive environmental damage. With the implementation of proper controls and advances in technology in the mid-1960s, the water quality improved and there is evidence that many of the surrounding lakes and rivers are recovering. The mining companies and regulatory agencies continue to work together to ensure that the lands and waterways are protected.
In all likelihood, some of the stakeholders may have already concluded that the environmental concerns and economic issues have been taken care of. Nevertheless, the members of the Decommissioning Review and Advisory Committee (DRAC) believe that there is a greater need than ever for public involvement in the on-going decision-making process affecting future land use as well as the monitoring and management of the tailings areas. With population pressures, cottage lot proposals and other initiatives, including forestry and hydro development, the Serpent River Watershed will, no doubt, undergo numerous changes that require responsible management.
The vision of DRAC members is to create a strong partnership between the public, the mining companies and the regulatory agencies to ensure environmentally healthy, economically secure, spiritually whole and sustainable communities in the region. A copy of its report, Respect and Responsibility: The Stewardship of the Serpent River Watershed was sent to all stakeholders outlining a new road map for moving in the direction of empowered community involvement. Stakeholders were invited to attend a Community Forum on May 4, 2000, in Elliot Lake to share the vision of the DRAC members and support the activities of an independent, not-for-profit organization working in the best interests of the communities it represents.
There is a compelling need to bridge the gap between all of the stakeholders to ensure that the Serpent River Watershed and other related lands and waterways are always protected. While the mining properties will bear the imprint of industrial development for the rest of time, the economy of the entire area is dependent on the natural beauty of the Northern Ontario wilderness. With the closure of the mining operations, nature has begun to heal its wounds. Both current and future generations must also understand that environmental health and safety can not be sacrificed for the sake of economic growth or prosperity. Water continues to be the most important resource for the region, which can no longer be taken for granted.
We, all of us, are the stewards of the land. The Serpent River Watershed is our legacy. Fifty, one hundred, two hundred years from now, when we are long gone, the river and the uranium tailings will still be here. We must pass onto future generations the information and the desire the protect it.
The Building Blocks
Give us the tools, the tools that we believe will be an investment on the part of the stakeholders. There is still work to be done as we move from concept to action. We need your input and support as we begin to develop our proposal working closely with the people who live in the City of Elliot Lake, the Township of the North Shore and the Serpent River First Nation. We need to continue to plan for new ways to honour our legacy through creative partnerships.
It is never too late to start doing the right thing. We are asking you to become part of the healing process.
From the report on the May 4, 2000 Community Forum, Bridging the Gap–Respect and Responsibility: the Stewardship of the Serpent River Watershed Chairman Ken Bondy, Tel. 705-461-3935