IPEN International Pollutants Elimination Network

At Plastics Treaty Talks, Indigenous and First Nations Leaders Call for Swift Global Action to Protect Health and the Environment from Toxic Plastics

panel members at INC4 briefing

Ottawa – Today, at an event in conjunction with the Plastics Treaty INC-4 negotiations, Indigenous Arctic and First Nations Peoples shared their experiences facing the interlinked threats from plastics, petrochemicals, and climate change. The leaders from Alaska, Ontario, and Texas warned that maintaining or increasing plastic production would imperil global health and their lands, cultures, and lives.

The Arctic is both a source and sink for toxic chemicals from plastics production — fossil fuels extracted from the Arctic create toxic threats, and wind and ocean currents carry plastic wastes to the Arctic resulting in accumulations of toxic chemicals. In Canada, forty percent of the nation’s chemical industry is located in Sarnia, Ontario, where it exposes the Aamjiwnaang First Nation community to extreme levels of polluted air and other types of pollution. In the U.S., Indigenous Peoples are impacted by the escalating petrochemical build-out across Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas.

“As the First Peoples of Alaska, we have been stewards of our lands, airs, and waters. Now our People are being exposed to toxic chemicals without our consent. These are burdens we did not create but we face some of the most drastic changes here in the Arctic,” said Vi Pangunnaaq Waghiyi, a Yupik grandmother and member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. “We need a strong Plastics Treaty because current policies are not protective of our communities.”

Earlier today, 113 organizations, civil society groups, and frontline communities released an open letter in solidarity with the Aamjiwnaang community calling on the federal government to take immediate steps to ensure the Ineos Styrolution plant in Sarnia, Ontario, the source of benzene pollution of the community, is closed until such a time that Aamjiwnaang First Nation is satisfied that the compoany is able and willing to meet the community’s demands and health-based air quality standards. The letter notes,

As host of the fourth round of plastic treaty negotiations, and as a member of the High Ambition Coalition (HAC) that has set a commendable goal of ending plastic pollution by 2040, Canada must act with integrity and set an example on the global stage by taking action to address this environmental emergency and the environmental racism that Aamjiwnaang First Nation has experienced…

CJ Smith-White, Elected Councillor, Aamjiwnaang First Nation said: “Just last week, elevated benzene levels in the air from the Ineos Styrolution facility caused several members of our community to fall ill. This is not acceptable, nor is it an isolated event. Our people, the original people here, the Anishinabe, have been exposed to environmental racism for more than 100 years. Our community and our lands have become a sacrifice zone for the benefit of industry.”

“Canada has adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). It must follow through on its promise at INC-4. It must listen to and centre the voices of Indigenous and frontline communities to secure a legally binding treaty that protects Indigenous rights, human rights, human health, and the environment from the harms of plastic pollution.”

Lynn Rosales of Aamjiwnaang First Nation added, “We live in a sacrifice zone. The burden of proof is on our people, but we have been polluted without our consent. They say it’s our lifestyle that’s killing us, not their toxic pollution that’s all around us.”

“In the lead in these negotiations needs to be those who are disproportionately impacted by chemicals and plastics and have been for generations, the frontline communities and Indigenous Peoples, not industry, said “Frankie Orona, Indigenous leader and Executive Director, Society of Native Nations. “We want to ensure that any proposed solutions lead with the protection of human health and the environment.”

“Worldwide we are not prepared for catastrophic disasters. Indigenous tribes all over the world are under assault,” said Delbert Pungowiyi, a Yupik Elder and Indigenous Leader from Alaska. “We are overwhelmed with concern about the health harms associated with climate change, the loss of sea ice and melting permafrost, and the mobilization of chemicals and plastics — these are all interconnected. We are running out of time.”

“This week, world governments have a historic opportunity to bring Native voices to the table in taking on this crisis that impacts their lands, cultures, and lives,” said Pamela Miller, IPEN Co-chair and Executive Director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT). “Their experiences show that we must have a strong Plastics Treaty that eliminates toxic chemicals and controls plastic production to protect global health and the environment.”