Walpole Island, First Nation, Canada


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Walpole Island Indian Reserve is nestled between Ontario, Canada and Michigan, USA at the mouth of the St. Clair River. Occupied by aboriginal people for thousands of years, it is today home to 2,000 Ojibwa, Potawatomi and Ottawa. Having a common heritage they formed the Council of Three Fires--a political and cultural compact that has survived the test of time.

The "Island" is blessed with a unique ecosystem including 6,900 hectares of the richest and most diverse wetlands in all of the Great Lakes. Walpole Island is also known for it's rare flora and fauna. Citizens of this First Nation, incredibly, can still support their families through hunting, fishing, trapping, and guiding activities. The number one industry in the community is recreation and tourism.

Today our paradise is under siege. Walpole Island has been subjected to an arsenal of pollutants for decades. First, upstream is Canada's major petrochemical and refining region called "Chemical Valley". Between 1974 and 1986, a total of 32 major spills, as well as hundreds of minor ones, involved 10 tonnes of pollutants. Since 1986, the Ministry of Environment has recorded an average of 100 spills per year.

Secondly, passing ocean-going freighters are a constant reminder that a "Valdez-type" disaster is possible. As it is, these ships are responsible for introducing the menacing and resilient zebra mussels to Lake St. Clair and our wetlands.

Thirdly, the significant agricultural runoff of pesticides and fertilisers is a major non-point pollution source. Our once popular beaches are closed for weeks on end because of high levels of bacteria.

And finally, dredging of contaminated sediments in the surrounding waters poses yet another serious environmental problem. Environmental degradation has significant implications for our wildlife and its habitat, human health and well-being, and economic development, which depends to a large degree on the viability of our natural resource base.

Clearly Walpole Island First Nation faces great environmental stress. Continuation of the status quo is not a viable strategy. By 1990, the time had come for the community to articulate, define and pursue its vision for the year 2000 and beyond. The preparation and implementation of a strategy to ensure sustainable development well into the next century has begun.

The process will not be an easy one. It will require significant institutional changes to make way for social, cultural, economic, technological, and political development. Nevertheless, we have begun. We have developed our statement of principles, drafted reports and created a concrete action plan that is now underway.

Globally, sustainable development is an imperative. At Walpole Island, we believe sustainable development must be defined in practical terms. The people of Walpole Island view life in a spiritual, holistic and dynamic way. As our ecosystem knows no political boundaries, neither should sustainable development. We know that we cannot do it alone. Only through an integrated approach will society be able to reconcile the environment with economic development to complete the circle. We have committed ourselves to this end. The future depends on it.