The First Nation of Aamjiwnaang's burial grounds is located in Sarnia, Ontario. These people have been there for hundreds of years. And about 70 years ago, they got some great new neighbors. The first thing you notice when you visit Sarnia, Ontario, is the smell. Imagine a mixture of gasoline, melting asphalt, and a trace of rotten egg smacking you in the face and crawling up your nose every time you breathe. It's a cocktail that will make you unpleasantly high and dizzy.
That smell is coming from the chemical valley, where 40% of Canada's petrochemical industry is located in a 25 square area. The chemical valley is responsible for the production of gasoline, plastics, pesticides, fertilizers, cosmetics, and a whole bunch of other chemicals that Canadian society relies on.
And it's estimated that in 2013 alone, the Canadian petrochemical industry will generate $24 billion in sales. Two years ago, thanks to the 60 petrochemical plants and oil refineries that operate in the chemical valley 24/7, the World Health Organization gave Sarnia the title of the worst air in all of Canada.
This is a serious health concern for the people of Aamjiwnaang, as their community has consistently claimed to have higher cancer and miscarriage rates than the national average, and yet the government has not launched a proper health study to investigate their allegations.
Tensions between the First Nations community of Canada, the government, and the petrochemical industry have been running high for a very long time. Regular participation in highway blockades and protests are the norm for many First Nations communities in Canada who are pushing back against environmental damage to their native land.
One of the major issues that the residents of Aamjiwnaang need to deal with are chemical leaks from the plants themselves. Often times, these leaks go unreported, and in the first half of 2013 alone, there were three spills of hydrogen sulfide. One of them sent several small children from Aamjiwnaang's daycare to the hospital.
Once VICE heard about Aamjiwnaang'g struggle, they knew they had to go visit the chemical valley themselves to try and get a better sense of how the relationship between the First Nations and the petrochemical industry is being handled, what's being done to ensure the safety of the people of Aamjiwnaang, and what the future of the chemical valley holds.
They visited Sarnia while a high profile energy conference was being held. Political leaders and energy executives had converged on the city to discuss how more money could be squeezed out of Canada's most valuable resource - their oil. As you might imagine, the people of Aamjiwnaang were not happy to hear that more industry would be coming their way.