Thunder Bay

Concerns about nuclear waste near Ignace, Ont., prompts one woman to hit the pavement

One woman's concern over a proposed nuclear waste repository near Ignace, Ont., means she will walk hundreds of kilometres to raise awareness about the project.

Darlene Necan says not enough Indigenous people raising their concerns over nuclear repository

Darlene Necan is walking from Ignace to Savant Lake and Sioux Lookout, Ont., to raise awareness about a proposed nuclear waste repository. (Jorge Barrera/CBC)

One woman's concern over a proposed nuclear waste repository near Ignace, Ont., means she will walk hundreds of kilometres to raise awareness about the project.

For the past decade, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) has engaged the Township of Ignace, and eight nearby First Nations to determine if the area is interested in hosting the repository.

Darlene Necan, a member of the Ojibways of Saugeen First Nation 258 in Savant Lake, about 150 kilometres north of Ignace, said she has concerns over what the project could do to the water in the area.

"The amount of people here are very terrified and scared. Nobody will stand up to nothing," she said.

Necan has so far walked from Ignace to Savant Lake, and plans to continue on to Sioux Lookout, before looping back to Ignace.

"We did meet up with the tourist camp owners along the way," she said, referring to camp operators on Highway 599.

"They are in support because they said how are we going to invite the Americans or people from other countries to come fish in our nuke waters now. They say stuff like that."

Necan said many members of her community have not been engaged in any discussion of nuclear waste - but she said that falls at the hands of Chief and Council, not the NWMO.

"We're still at a loss about this nuclear thing, so a lot of people cannot say that we're in the wrong for standing up to it. We're at a loss, because the leadership past, have never consulted, we never even consented to it."

Necan said before she started her journey, she ensured she visited the NWMO's Learn More centre in Ignace.

"You can't really absorb it all. Your mind is going a hundred miles, this way, that way with questions, but you want to get the most of it."

"I'm only one Indian who's trying to listen and see both sides, I said, why don't you bring your mobile unit to Savant Lake, and get the rest of these natives around here, to go and listen to this nuclear thing, because they, a lot of them don't even know what's going on. But, I haven't seen the future to really know how scary it is."

Bradley Hammond, a spokesperson for the NWMO, said the group considers all opportunities to engage with the public.

He said the organization has had three specific engagement sessions with Indigenous communities, related to borehole drilling and road access.

"It's an opportunity for us at NWMO to recognize that we can always do more to reach out to individuals and organizations and people in the area to provide information about Canada's plan."

"We made a point of ensuring that we had our mobile Learn More centre available," he said, when Necan started her walk in Ignace.

"As an organization we have always been clear, the project will only proceed in an area with informed and willing hosts, this includes local Indigenous communities and municipalities working collaboratively to implement it."

Hammond said the NWMO has formalized agreements, which it calls Learn More Agreements with eight First Nations, 2 Metis groups and Grand Council Treaty Three.

"The NWMO has successfully executed the duty to consult with Indigenous communities in the area for a number of aspects of ongoing work, including technical site evaluations in northwestern Ontario, including borehole drilling and site access."

Hammond said the NWMO plans to select a location for the repository by 2023, with Ignace as one of two communities in the running for the project. The other is South Bruce in southern Ontario.

The NWMO has provided $1.9 million in funding to a number of community groups and communities in the Ignace area since the beginning of 2019, to assist with education about the project, Hammond said.


Jeff Walters

Former CBC reporter

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Jeff worked in his hometown, as well as throughout northwestern Ontario.