Comments from the Dene Nation

by Stephanie Papik

In June 1997 the Northern Contaminants Program released a report on six years of contaminants-related work: Canadian Arctic Contaminants Assessment Report (CACAR). 

The report provides evidence that contaminants are an issue in the North. Although contaminant levels in the Upper Mackenzie River region are low, we must work together to ensure that they do not increase over time. This can be done only by involving individuals, communities, regions, nations, and international organizations. 

The format of the CACAR groups the information by contaminants studied rather than by species affected. If the information were presented to show contaminant impact on species it would make it easier for people to make informed choices about the type of food they will eat. 

Contaminants as a Public Health Issue 

The good news from the CACAR is that the levels of contaminants in traditional Dene foods are low because these foods are low in fat and near the bottom of the food chain. The shorter the food chain, the less magnification of contaminants occurs, particularly in the case of organochlorines. 

What Canada Should be Doing on an International Front 

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs), heavy metals, radionuclides, and other contaminants enter the Arctic by long-range transport in air and, to a lesser degree, water currents. 

Many of the contaminants of concern in the Arctic are pesticides and industrial chemicals that are no longer used in Canada and that have been banned or restricted for use in much of the developed world; however, because POPs are in use in many developing nations, POPs contamination in the Canadian Arctic can be reduced only through global action. 

To move towards this objective, Canada must maintain a strong position at the United Nations European Commission on Economics (UN/ECE) negotiations on the long-range transport of POPs. Leading up to the October 1997 UN/ECE meeting in Geneva, the Dene Nation was active in urging the minister of Foreign Affairs, Lloyd Axworthy, to uphold a strong position by insisting that the following be included in the protocol: 

The outcome of the UN/ECE negotiations will affect the United Nations Environmental Protection (UNEP) global process protocol on POPs. If these three measures are included at the UN/ECE, it is likely that they will also be included in the UNEP protocol. making them legally binding and global.

Stephanie Papik is Manager, Lands and Environment Department, Dene Nation.

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