Windsor

Indigenous two-spirit describes living in Canada's 'chemical valley' in Greenpeace report on recycling

As an Indigenous two-spirit, Beze Gray grew up learning to cherish the land. But was confused when the very land they were told to respect was littered with signs that read "toxic." 

Beze Gray talks about the disconnect they experienced growing up beside petrochemical plants

A sign for the Aamjiwnaang First Nation Resource Centre is seen in a file photo from April 21, 2007. (Craig Glover/Canadian Press)

As an Indigenous two-spirit, Beze Gray grew up learning to cherish the land. But they were confused when the very land they were told to respect was littered with signs that read "toxic." 

Gray, who is a land and water defender from Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia, wrote the foreward in Greenpeace's latest report on recycling in Canada that has been submitted to the federal government. They said they were contacted by the organization to provide some insight on what it's like living in a community surrounded by Canada's "chemical valley."

The valley, according to Gray, contains a number petrochemical facilities that extract and process oils that turn into other products, such as plastics. 

"I became interested in chemical valley because it was in my backyard and not knowing at all what it was but that it very much impacted my daily life," Gray told CBC News. "Like I couldn't go outside and play in my backyard without breathing in like thousands of different chemicals." 

Gray started taking an interest in what was happening around them since Grade 7. 

In Gray's foreward, they said they were confused growing up near rivers that they couldn't touch, as dangerous chemicals were inside, or seeing dark billowing clouds pumped out of smoke stacks. 

LISTEN: Gray talks to the CBC's Afternoon Drive 

A land and water defender from Aamjiwnaang First Nation wrote a telling story about growing up near Sarnia's Chemical Valley. Afternoon Drive host Chris dela Torre speaks with Beze Gray about their foreward written for a Greenpeace report on plastic waste. 9:04

"Having my Indigenous connection of like, we have such a rich culture that involves being very active with the land. Harvesting, gathering and a lot of our teachings are based off of our respect with the land and really living with the land and not so much off of it and so I felt a huge disconnection," they said. 

And the land isn't the only thing being impacted, Gray said, noting in their foreward that the people and community also feel the effects of the pollution. 

"We disproportionately face respiratory illness and rare cancers in our community, tests have confirmed that PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are in our blood, and chemicals have impacts on genes lasting generations," reads a part of Gray's foreward. 

At the end of the foreward, Gray lists two calls to action to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: 

  • A payment given to Aamjiwnaang every time one of the industries spills. 
  • Stricter air pollution measures. 

"This is very much part of Canada's history in itself like this whole history of like the term of environmental racism, ... these destructive land processes are happening next to First Nation communities and the broader Canadian public is not acknowledging that whatsoever and the tolls that it has on that community," they said. 

Gray now lives in Tiny Township and is part of the Aamjiwnaang and Sarnia Against Pipelines advocacy group, which educates people about Indigenous land practices and the effects of petro-waste on the land and water. 

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