One of the leaders in the ongoing campaign to protect Mother Earth and all creation from dangerous radioactive waste passed this week. Kahnawà:ke Grand Chief Joe Norton was one of the Indigenous leaders who created the alliance between the Iroquois Caucus and the Anishinabek Nation on Radioactive Waste. He later helped to formulate the Joint Declaration and to lead the mission to the United Nations to present the Indigenous perspective on radioactive waste.
In the Tsi Nahò:ten Karihwanákere Nó:nen’k press release, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke announced the passing of Grand Chief Joseph Tokwiro Norton on August 14 at age 70. Norton, first elected to office in 1978, was elected Grand Chief in 1982 and served 13 consecutive terms, retiring in 2004. He returned as Grand Chief in 2015 until his death.
The release notes that “He was known throughout Turtle Island and across North America as a fierce defender of our rights. For many, Norton will be remembered for his leadership as a negotiator in the Oka crisis in 1990.”
Condolences are appearing throughout social media celebrating and mourning his passing.
Mohawk leader Ellen Gabriel wrote on Facebook that she was “saddened and shocked” to hear of his death. “He was a great statesman, a fluent Kanien’kéha speaker and Turtle clan relative.” She recalled how the two addressed the European Parliament together in 1990. “We always had honest conversations acknowledging each other’s political points of views: but he was gracious and respectful,” she wrote.
Romeo Saganash tweeted: “He gave me his understanding of sovereignty when we first met in 1989, he thought I should incorporate that into my thinking, I tried and think I partly did. Safe Travels my friend.”
On the national and international levels, Grand Chief Norton advocated for the protection of Indigenous lands and waters.
At this time, the country requires strong leaders willing to speak truth to the powerful corporate and political forces determined to continue producing more radioactive waste materials from nuclear reactors.
Norton’s powerful presentation at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, at United Nation Headquarters in New York City on April 23 2018 entitled “Radioactive Waste and Canada’s First Nations” is particularly relevant to New Brunswick today.
Radioactive waste is a big problem for the two new nuclear reactors proposed for New Brunswick. The two projects have received $10 million to date from NB Power and the provincial government.
The federal government is currently developing a radioactive waste policy and strategy that they claim will happen in consultation with the public and Indigenous peoples. In May, more than 100 civil society groups across Canada, including nine in New Brunswick wrote to the federal minister of Natural Resources, Seamus O’Regan, asking that the new nuclear projects be suspended until a plan is in place for the radioactive waste.
Last week the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick wrote to Minister O’Regan asking for a public consultation on radioactive waste in New Brunswick.
The two proposed new nuclear reactors will be sited beside NB Power’s Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station, the only operating nuclear power station outside of Ontario. Lepreau’s licensing schedule is another opportunity for New Brunswick community groups and Indigenous people to challenge the nuclear industry and their government partners in their attempt to continue producing more waste and expand their nuclear capabilities on the shores of the Bay of Fundy. The calendar for the licencing process is below.
Brian Beaton is a writer and the calendar coordinator for the NB Media Co-op.