Symposium spotlights Race, Place and the Environment

By a Staff Reporter
A symposium brought together stakeholders for A CONVERSATION ABOUT RACE, PLACE AND THE ENVIRONMENT on Thursday and Friday (October 26 & 27) at the Paul O’Regan Hall of the Halifax Central Library.

The symposium was designed to engage in an intersectional and inclusive conversation about the social justice dimensions of place, space and the environment and examine how hierarchies and intersections of race, culture, gender, income, class and other social identities coexist as communities or live, work and play in rural and urban settings.

In her introduction to the symposium, Dr. Ingrid Waldron touched on the impacts of colonization, trauma and structural violence on the spiritual and physical health and well-being of racialized and immigrant communities in Halifax and across the country.

Dr. Waldron is an associate professor in the School of Nursing at Dalhousie University, and the Director of the Environmental Noxiousness, Racial Inequities and Community Health Project (ENRICH), a sponsor of the Symposium. The ENRICH project was formed in 2012 to support Mi`kmaw and African Nova Scotian communities in addressing the socio- economic effects and health risks associated with environmental racism in their communities.

The symposium keynote was delivered by George Lipsitz, a Professor in the Department of Black Studies at the University of California whose academic focus covers social movements, urban culture and inequality.

The Research Panel was opened by Dr. Michael Mascarenhas, Assistant Professor at the University of California and author of Where The Waters Divide, who spoke of how power and poverty are factors in the access-to-water struggle among indigenous communities and people of colour in the US and Canada.

He said that while researching the water crises in Saskatchewan, he was drawn to the First Nations Reserves in Ontario where he saw the injustices in water access and heard of the despairing note from those who said: “Nobody listens to us until a few Whites die.”

Dr. Mascarenhas pointed to water access issues in Flint City and the City of Detroit, and spoke of the alarming water shut-offs in Detroit in 2014 when, according to the United Nations, 27,000 households were victim to the municipality’s water shut-offs on account of their inability to pay their water bills.

He said municipal bankruptcy was the cause of the Flint and Detroit city crisis. However as a UN official told the Detroit Press then: “The fact that the city is in such a situation doesn’t exempt it from human rights obligations.”

In research findings, Dr. Mascarenhas pointed to charts to prove that the white-black resident population ratios in rural-urban areas did actually determine the problems with access to clean water. His research examines the political, social and environmental tensions and controversies surrounding recent transnational changes in the governance of water regimes.

Doreen Bernard, a survivor of Canada’s residential schools, spoke about Canada’s attempt to integrate the First Nations peoples into mainstream society was, actually, intended to destroy their heritage, language and traditions.

But in a reference to the calls for action, she said the community is now demanding that indigenous culture, language and tradition be incorporated into school curriculums and that the 21 calls to action, determined by the UN Declaration of the Rights to Indigenous Peoples, be implemented.

Referring to the Alton Gas project, she said permits for corporations were issued without the knowledge of local communities. In closing, she said “Grassroot Grandmothers demand action on suicide addictions, health care, treaty rights, protection of water and cultural revitalization.”

Louise Delisle, who co-founded the South End Environmental Injustice Society to address environmental concerns in Shelburne, Nova Scotia, declared, to grand applause, that last year, the campaign to close the town dump was, at last, achieved. She said, the ENRICH research studies on environmental impact on health in Shelburne drew attention to the high rates of cancer among men “which has left us a community of widows.”

She said that breathing issues, alcoholism and stress in the communities in Shelburne were a result of the toxic waste at the town dump, where chemicals, that can cause death, have been the cause of fires. “We do not know how our air and water were affected by the pollution, but research will tell us.”

The symposium was organized by The ENRICH Project, Healthy Population Institute and Dalhousie University.

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