Jordan: By now, you’re probably familiar with the term NIMBY if you’re not it’s an acronym it stands for not in my backyard. It’s used in reference to a town or a city’s proposal to place something that’s not really desirable either in the middle of or right next to a residential neighbourhood. Things like addiction centers or needle exchanges or garbage dumps industrial plants factories that kind of stuff when that happens the nimbys as they’re called in the neighborhood will raise hell debate and oppose delay. Until the city backs off in many neighborhoods that often works, but all of those factories and plants and garbage dumps have to end up in somebody’s backyard and today’s episode is about the backyards they do end up in. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings, and this is the big story Ingrid Waldron is a professor at the faculty of Health at Dalhousie University and the author of There’s something in the water a book which was turned into a documentary film which debuted at Tiff this month. Hi Ingrid.
Ingrid Waldron: Hi there.
Jordan: Thanks so much for coming in.
Ingrid Waldron: Thanks for having me.
Jordan: I find these kind of discussions or better when you. With a specific story was there one story of a particular place or community in Nova Scotia that inspired you to drill down on the work that led to this book?
Ingrid Waldron: Yeah. I think it was one of the first communities that I met and built a relationship with and that’s the African NOVA scotian community in Shelburne. There’s an African Nova Scotian community and Lincolnville as well but in Shelburne. I had in 2015 and of 2015 hired. I wanted to hire somebody from Shelburne to do focus groups in their Community to learn more about environmental racism and I hired a Woman by the name of Louise de l’ile who was featured in the documentary and we were talking and I was talking to her about the definition of environmental racism and she said to me oh, could that be the reason why everybody in my community has cancer and she went on to say that basically 96% of the people in her community had cancer including. Mother who had fought cancer several times her sister. Yeah. I was like everybody and I thought this couldn’t be with us. It was stunning what she was saying and it was mostly women and the man had died out and there was actually an article written by a Nova Scotian journalist. The title of the article was a community of widows. So this is a low-income rural African Nova Scotian community in the South End of Shelburne. The North End of Shelburne is predominantly white the south end of Shelburne is predominantly black the North End of Shelburne. The white Community is on Town water the south end of Shelburne with the black community is not on Town water and they have also been near a landfill since the 1940s so she was making. A connection between the landfill that’s been there since the 1940s and the high rates of cancer including multiple myeloma, which is a blood cancer, which is extremely rare. So I think that’s what I mean before then. I started the project in 2012. It was Lincolnville and it was indigenous communities of Pictou Landing Force nation and Yarmouth. I had visited all of them, but. And I’m a health researcher. So that’s why I got into this because I wanted to know about cancer rates Etc. But when she said that basically everyone in my community has cancer. It’s kind of stopped me in my tracks and I thought wow this is a real example of how environmental exposure impacts health. And you know, one of the worst Health outcomes you can have is cancer.
Jordan: What happened when you brought to light what was going on in Shelburne or even just as you dug into the story has anything changed
Ingrid Waldron: In Shelburne lots of change and I’m lucky to have Louise who is a true leader because the work I do my is community-based research. And I feel it must be led by the community. Typically you have academics go in, you know and tell people what to do and you know, and that for me doesn’t work, but the kind of you know research that I do so you want Community leaders who will lead the research and Louise has been a true leader and because of her leadership and of course because of support my project has given her with respect to funding and things that she could never accept. The amount of compliments that she’s made and other people in her community have made since 2015 and I met her we implemented a water testing project. I brought together a hydrogeologist an environmental scientist environmental science students. We got some funding and we did the first ever water testing project. In Shelburne, so they could finally know what is in their water and then we give them the water right now with the first round of testing showed coliform and E coli. Now, those are perhaps not as serious as some other types of contaminants like arsenic. However, they can create inflammation and cancer is inflammation. You know, when you have inflammation in your body, you can lead to cancer. However, I spoke with Louise two days ago, and she said in good we had some second. Testing and is worse than the other test the the results and I am now super convinced that the contaminants in our water is causing us cancer, you know because people were pretty weary about that in Nova Scotia. Well, it’s probably not the landfill, you know, stop complaining some of her the politicians in the area were saying that but she says we just did some round of testings. I didn’t even talk to you about it yet, but it’s much more serious. So that’s one thing we did water testing for the first time. She was able to get the Landfill closed for the first time ever at the end of 2016. I that landfill has been open since the 1940s. So because of her leadership, she got it close now, it’s great that she got too close. It’s an accomplishment. However, the cancer rate is still there. It doesn’t it doesn’t wash away the fact that the community has it been exposed to contaminants that continue to impact them. She wanted human rights award December of last year Nova Scotia human rights award her organization that she founded. After she met me when she found out more about environmental racism, her organization is called the Southend environmental Injustice Society Incorporated and they have done a lot of work around the landfill and health issues. So they got out an award for that. She we are putting in an ultra filtration system in her community which supposed to clean as a bit. So kind of equipment that cleans out the water a very Innovative project that we’re doing.
Jordan: So that’s a lot of money. Yeah, that’s a lot of work
Ingrid Waldron: For women is for
Jordan: What one Community? Yeah was experiencing and you mentioned the term environmental racism a couple of times. Can you define what that is?
Ingrid Waldron: Environmental racism was not coined by me. I’m it was coined in the United States by Reverend Benjamin Chavez and the nine early 1980s and it refers to the disproportionate sighting or location of hazardous industry in primarily communities of color indigenous communities and low-income white communities as well low-income. Working class white communities. So it’s about disproportionality. It’s about the fact that environmental policies and environmental assessments which makes decisions about where an industry would be placed at end to place those Industries in communities that are not able to fight back not able to resist. So communities in Canada that are less able to resist and fight back or those that are marginalized those that lie at the intersection of race culture low. Low, socioeconomic status residents in rural areas. They’re less likely to fight back if you place an industry. On in a wealthy, you know Nova Scotian community White Community.They’re going to be heard. They’re going to say something. They have the resources the political clout to get their voices heard. So when you’re low income and racial eyes and black and Indigenous living in an out-of-the-way places, you don’t get to be heard sometimes and you’re forgotten by policymakers. So environmental racism actually encapsulates all of that. It’s the inability to fight back to get your voice heard the fact that Environmental. These are discrimination gets written into environmental policies and ways that then lead to disproportionate exposure to contaminants and disproportionate Health outcomes, which we call environmental health and equities is the principal aspect or principal aspect of environmental racism.
Jordan: So what did that look like you’ve described Shelburne, but what did that look like across the province when you were examining some of the projects?
Ingrid Waldron: I will first say that if you go to my website, you will see a map that was created to show the location of Industries and both indigenous and black communities. So if you go into that map, you’ll see two layers. You’ll see one for the black community one for the indigenous communities and. It’s stunning the amount of waste sites landfills Pulp and Paper Mills incinerators that are close to Black and Indigenous community. So what it looks like is that even when I visited the community’s everyone had a story about, you know, waste Health inequities environmental exposures and the map shows that two very convincingly. What the map. But doesn’t say and what I never say is that white communities are not near landfills they are so it doesn’t mean that they’re not it just means that disproportionately you’re going to find black communities around those clustered around waste sites and Indigenous communities even more so than black communities across Canada. We hear about pipelines all the time and they run through indigenous communities. So this is there’s no doubt that these are communities disproportionately impacted.
Jordan: When you began researching your book how well did you find that the people with the power understood this phenomenon and what was happening? I guess I’m trying to ask if it’s conscious or unconscious.
Ingrid Waldron: I mentioned in the book that it’s institutional in a way unconscious. Some people would say to me. I think it’s gone. Just I think I think they think these people said in a room and plan to hurt people. I don’t think it’s that direct. I think it’s I don’t know if the word is unconscious. But I think in general we have Notions in our head about who we think has value who we think has worth who we think can fight back and I think when you and when you create policies that gets. It meant to policies, you know, if you don’t think a particular Community has value then it’s makes perfect sense to locate a landfill near to that community. So maybe there’s a conscious aspect to it. But it’s I see the subtle and I see that as Institution.
Jordan: And sometimes they’re kind of choosing the path of least resistance, right? Because they don’t want a hoard of rich white people showing up at city council.
Ingrid Waldron: Exactly. And these are the communities that are less likely to do that. Now that doesn’t mean that they haven’t done that. They’re certainly been involved in resistance and mobilizing activities and environmental organizing all those communities. But it’s taken a long time for them to get heard. I think of Peter Landing first nation that that Community has been dealing with the contaminated Boat Harbor site since 1967 and starting in the 1980s. They have been asking government to address it and the government has promised to address it over that time repeated promises and never has now they’re looking at a closure finally in January January 31st, 2020. They’ve been certainly. Mobilizing around that so it may happen finally, but the broken promises repeatedly since the early 1980s is very telling
Jordan: How does this story or I guess these this collection of stories go from becoming kind of a research driven book about communities in Nova Scotia to a documentary film. That is you got a lot of press at Tiff and how did that happen? What changed
Ingrid Waldron: a celebrity being involved in my project? I mean, it’s Ellen Page Nova Scotia born actress who reached out October of last year had read a book by John Baxter a Nova Scotian journalist. She wrote a book called The Mill and it was about Pictou Pictou to Landing First Nation. It was focused solely on that issue and Ellen wanted to find out more. I believe she said she Googled environmental racism came to my name. Came to my project website and then found the Twitter and October. I went to my Twitter page and I noticed somebody following me by the name of Ellen Page, but it didn’t connect. I didn’t think it was her because it says on the profile tiny Canadian said nothing about being an actress. So I was like and then I went away and then I came back three weeks later and there’s Alan there’s a bunch of comments on my Twitter page talking about my book. Asking people to get my book. I traced it back up to Ellen Page saying you need to read Ingrid’s book. It’s essential you must read it. And I said so the Ellen Page that I noticed on my Twitter three weeks ago, is that the actress and I realize it was so I said, I’m going to reach out to her and thank her because I’d never seen so much action on my Twitter page. I’m not that good with with, you know, social media and I said,
Jordan: that’s how it happens these days.
Ingrid Waldron: Yeah, I was up it was shocked. So I thanked her and then some I don’t know how this happened but her longtime friend who owns a few restaurant in Halifax that I have known Ellen for 15 years. Do you want me to put you in touch with her and we did Chris week of Christmas of the of Christmas last year and we were on the phone together the three of us and Ellen says I want to use my celebrity to support you to support your book to support the women fighting against these issues. How can I do that? We spent some time thinking about. She lives in New York. Now. She moved from California and I thought well, I don’t know how she lives and in New York. How can she really helped? And then I said well her Twitter following is almost 2 million people. I guess that’s powerful maybe when I tweet out something she can retweet I thought social media would be a good place for her and then, you know a few months went by and nothing happened. I was trying to figure out I said, I have a celebrity willing to help me but I can’t seem to figure out how to fit her in I was frustrated then we had another conversation myself. Her and the women affected by environmental issues indigenous women specifically and then we started talking about film and Ellen said maybe we can do a few Clips short clips. Just post it on social media. Nothing big. We weren’t thinking of Tiff and we weren’t thinking of a feature film and post a few. Get some exposure and that’s it. That’s where it ended. And we all said yeah everybody on the phone music would they were excited? Oh, yes. Everybody was screaming excited. She came April 10th until about the 20th filmed probably six days. This is really Renegade and she got everything she wanted then I went back to view the footage with her and co-director Ian Daniel and we realized that we had something bigger and I thought these women had shared so much it was their stories were emotional. Just kind of doing maybe a hack job where we just posted on Twitter. I thought we needed something much more respectful. I said to her I said these are serious issues. I know I’ve been doing this project for a while. It’s emotional. I’m seeing the footage now and I don’t think we should just put it on Twitter. I think we need something else. That’s when we started to talk about 70 minute film a full-length feature, you know, we had a lot of footage and how can we use it then? I was the one who says. Yeah. I think the best place to expose these issues is TIFF Ian said I’m not going to be offended if Tiff. rejects us because I don’t have the time the deadline is in a few weeks. And I don’t think I can do this. I said I want to anyway, so we now had a goal and he was working 18 hours a day to try to get it through the deadline, but we never actually got to the deadline Cameron Bailey who runs Tif was kind enough to allow us to submit it after the deadline.
Jordan: Well, tell me. I mean, you don’t have to describe the whole film, but tell me about the women in the film that you’ve mentioned a couple of times. Who are they and what are their stories and how is it how do they show up in the documentary
Ingrid Waldron: now over the seven years that I’ve been doing my project there have been a lot of women but because it’s 70-minute film.
These are. Just three women who are featured at length and then we have the Grassroots grandmother’s so in the film you would have Louise de Lille who I talked about earlier from Shelburne who’s been dealing with the landfill and she takes us through the community. So her part is about driving through a car much of it and pointing at all the homes with people who have had cancer. It’s she’s really funny. She’s humorous. She’s stubborn people are going to like her I could feel it in the gala screen. People were laughing at certain points because she’s humorous. She just has a lot of Personality. She’s very down home. People are going to love her. Next up is is Michelle Francis Denny and she’s from Peak to Landing First Nation. And what’s fascinating about her story is that it’s very she talks about it in an intergenerational way. She talks about missing and murdered women. She talks about suicide. She talks about alcoholism. She talks about environmental racism. I like the way that she connects everything together. In the Indigenous communities how all these things need to be discussed in a way that looks at how they intersect and how their intergenerational because she talks about her grandfather who signed a deal and sold the harbor to government and that’s what and the guilt that he felt because of what has happened because you’re dealing with an oppressed community and somebody says we’ll pay you $60,000. You will agree to to to to do it. So she’s crying throughout the film because of his guilt. Then we go to Dorian Bernard who is husband fighting the Alton gas project for about four years now and she is part of what’s what they call the Grassroots grandmother grandmother’s it’s a group of six to seven indigenous women who. Identify different ways to address environmental racism but other issues in their community and it’s very intimate, they sit around together in a group and they talk about some of the challenges they’ve had dealing with the issue.
Jordan: These examples are great because they’re all from kind of one place. That’s a relatively small place compared to the size of Canada so you can kind of see how localized it. But how pervasive is this in Canada in general the Nova Scotia problem? Is it worse in Nova Scotia? Is this what we’ve got
Ingrid Waldron: the film is a case study of Nova Scotia my book. However begins with Nova Scotia and goes more broadly so through the research I’ve done and just through the people that I know the activist. This is a Canadian problem and I think specifically of Ontario and I think of Sarnia Ontario and you might have heard of chemical Valley and I know about chemical. Through readings but also through an activist by the name of Vanessa Gray
Jordan: Describe it quickly for people who haven’t heard
Ingrid Waldron: Sure Sarnia Ontario chemical Valley the indigenous Community nearby is dealing with about sixty two industries facing the community and that’s a they have extremely high rates of cancer and they also have reproductive health issues birth anomalies. I don’t know exactly the numbers but you’ve got an out of whack. Male to female ratio which is definitely directly as a result of environmental hazards. So just a notion that they have 62 hazardous Industries surrounding the community is stunning. We have examples in British Columbia, Alberta and you Brunswick, Saskatchewan. Some people would actually frame urban area, you know Toronto an urban area as having different cases of environmental racism. It’s not just in rural communities, right? Let me think of low-income racialized maybe immigrant communities and where they live,
Jordan: why isn’t this a federal issue if it’s everywhere in Canada? Why aren’t we talking about this until this documentary came?
Ingrid Waldron: We’re not talking about environmental racism enough, but we haven’t talking about environmental justice issues. I mean recently a bill was put forward federally for environmental Bill of Rights. I believe it didn’t pass right Canada is one of the few countries that doesn’t have a Federal Environmental Bill of Rights which protects all Canadians from hazardous air water and soil. I’m not sure why that is so we are talking about environmental issues. The problem is. We are hesitant to talk about its disproportionality. And yes, we all should be protected as Canadians, but when you don’t talk about the fact that certain communities are much more impacted. That’s problematic to me and the most recent bill that I saw was put forward by I think it was an albertan woman. MLA or politician that didn’t pass. I looked at the bill online. It said nothing about indigenous communities one thing to not say anything about black communities because of black communities that are impacted are mostly in Nova Scotia, but we know that indigenous communities across Canada are dealing with pipelines and other environmental hazards. So for me and environmental Bill of Rights that doesn’t even make mention of indigenous communities being most impacted is not is not an authentic environmental Bill of Rights to me. I would like to see more. On environmental racism. I do know people here in Toronto who are doing that work, and I think people are becoming more familiar with the term just because of, you know, I traveled I do conferences I present. I do guest lectures in Ontario and other places and people are slowly becoming aware of the term and what it means.
Jordan: Thank you for helping us today.
Ingrid Waldron: Thank you very much.
Jordan: Ingrid Waldron a professor at Dalhousie University and the author of there something in the water. That was the big story podcast for more from us. You can head to thebigstorypodcast.ca if you like what you hear their head to your favorite podcast app. I’m mostly thinking apple and hit that five star button. If you want to talk to us about why you didn’t like this particular episode. You can do it at @thebigstoryfpn on Twitter, and of course you can subscribe for free. Absolutely anywhere you get Podcast. Thanks for listening. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings. We’ll talk tomorrow.
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