National Pollutant Release Inventory Indigenous Series: Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee

A number of businesses, institutions and other facilities across Canada must report their air, water and land pollutants annually to the Government of Canada's National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI). The information collected is public and helps Canadians learn about pollution in their surroundings. It is also used to set environmental priorities and monitor environmental performance.

The National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) Indigenous Series highlights environmental challenges faced by Inuit and First Nations communities in Québec that are located in close proximity to facilities that report to the NPRI. The purpose of this series is to initiate discussions amongst affected groups, researchers and policy-makers about the sources and impacts of pollution in Indigenous communities across Canada. Differences in the content of each overview within the series reflect the knowledge, concerns and priorities identified by the regional organizations on behalf of the 57 communities they serve.

The NPRI Indigenous Series intends to serve as an informational overview, within the scope of the NPRI and the substances it tracks. It is not an exhaustive inventory of all that is occurring on Indigenous territories, nor all the pollutants that are released in and around communities. Instead, it is a starting point for future analyses, engagement and improvements. Links to external sources are used in the document solely to provide information that is relevant to the identified pollutants and concerns, but not covered by the NPRI.

NPRI Indigenous Series:  Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee

This specific overview examines facilities located near Cree communities in Québec and the pollutants they report to the NPRI. It also examines sectors of interest to Cree communities and the actions taken by facilities to mitigate environmental impacts. It was developed with input from representatives at the Cree Nation Government (CNG), the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay, and the James Bay Advisory Committee on the Environment (JBACE).

Overviews of pollutants released near First Nations and Inuit communities in Québec are also available.

Diagram of releases, disposal and transfers reported to the NPRI.

Diagram of releases, disposal and transfers reported to the NPRI.
Long Description

The NPRI tracks four main categories of releases, disposals and transfers.

Facilities can report on-site releases to air, surface waters, and land, as well as on-site disposals of pollutants. Facilities can also report off-site disposals, and

Who reports to the NPRI?

Businesses, institutions and other facilities across Canada who meet reporting requirements must report their releases and disposals of pollutants to the NPRI.

There are three main factors that determine which facilities are required to report to the NPRI:

The NPRI does not collect information on:

Learn more about other important considerations and NPRI reporting requirements.

The NPRI and small or remote communities

Exposure to pollution varies across demographic and socioeconomic groups, as well as across geographic regions (for example, urban versus rural). While small and remote communities across Canada are located away from industrial centres, pollution is transported through water, air and soil, and can negatively effect water and air quality in distant locations.

NPRI data alone is not enough to assess the risks and impacts of pollution on human health and the environment. Each substance has distinct physical and chemical properties, and varies in toxicity. As a result, environmental and health impacts will vary between substances and environments. To assess risk, other factors that must be considered include:

To pursue advanced analyses in this area, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) data on environmental indicators can be linked to NPRI data.

Map of northern Québec, and the land categories and boundaries defined in the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement

Map of northern Québec, and the land categories and boundaries defined in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement
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Legend - Map of northern Québec, and the land categories and boundaries defined in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement

The James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement

The James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement (JBNQA) was signed on November 11, 1975 by Cree and Inuit representatives, the Government of Canada, the Government of Québec, the James Bay Energy Corporation, the James Bay Development Corporation, and Hydro-Québec. It was the first comprehensive land claim agreement in Canada.

Sections 22 and 23 of the JBNQA set out an environmental and social protection regime for the territorial regions of James Bay and Nunavik. Moreover, the agreement recognizes Indigenous rights, includes self-government components, and lays the foundations for a new relationship between the Cree, the Inuit, the Government of Québec and the Government of Canada. More specifically, rights in areas such as resource management, economic development, education, and health and social services were defined under the agreement. Since signing the JBNQA, the Cree have signed several federal and provincial agreements regarding self-governance.

The Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) represents the Crees of Eeyou Istchee. The CNG exercises governmental and administrative functions on behalf of the Cree Nation. Both organizations operate as one to promote and protect the interests of those living in eastern James Bay and southeastern Hudson Bay.

Learn more about the JBNQA and treaty implementation and about treaty relationships and Indigenous rights.

Current federal initiatives

In 2017, the Government of Canada announced a four-year Indigenous Guardians Pilot Program. This program supports Indigenous rights and responsibilities in conserving ecosystems, and provides greater opportunity for communities to exercise stewardship of traditional lands. It is implemented jointly with First Nations, Inuit and Métis, and will be used to inform a long-term national approach.

In the second year of the program, a project with the CNG was active in Nemaska, Québec. The project aims to assist the Cree in Eastmain to proactively “manage their territory, develop local capacity, expand traditional knowledge, and have more influence on new industrial developments”.

Eeyou Istchee: The people’s land

Eeyou Istchee, meaning “the people’s land,” comprises over 17,000 people and over 300 traplines (that is, traditional family hunting and trapping groups). The traditional territory spans an area of around 350,000 km2 located primarily in northern Québec, including the lands on the eastern shore of James Bay and southeastern Hudson Bay.

Eeyou Istchee is home to 11 Cree communities, nine of which are incorporated into the JBNQA. The CNG and Grand Council of the Crees recognize Washaw Sibi as the tenth Cree First Nation, while MoCreebec, the 11th Cree First Nation, is located on the Ontario side of James Bay. The communities are primarily Cree (75% to 85% of the local population) and range in size from 1,000 to 5,000 residents. Half the population is located on the coast and half is located inland. Each community has its own unique history, although all communities are united through common interests, traditional values, and shared culture.

Community coordinates were retrieved from Open Government.

Location of Cree Communities

Location of Cree Communities
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Legend - Location of Cree Communities

Location of NPRI facilities reporting in Eeyou Istchee in 2018

Location of NPRI facilities reporting in Eeyou Istchee in 2018
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Legend - Location of NPRI facilities reporting in Eeyou Istchee in 2018

Facilities in the region

In 2018, 36 facilities in the overall James Bay treaty area reported to the NPRI from seven different sectors.

A large portion of the facilities (17) reported from the mining and quarrying sector. Of this total, most (11) were gold and silver ore mines. There were ten facilities in the region reporting from the wood products sector. The majority of these facilities (eight) were sawmills.

Three electricity facilities reported to the NPRI in this region. One was a diesel-generating station near the Cree community of Whapmagoostui (see the Nunavik story map for more information on diesel generators), and two were biomass energy facilities.

Substances in the region

In 2018, facilities in the James Bay region reported releases of 34 different substances. By quantity, the majority of releases to air, water and land were reported by the mining and quarrying sector (5,464 tonnes), followed by the wood products sector (3,216 tonnes). The mining and quarrying sector reported almost all (99%) of disposals and transfers.

Overall, the substances released to air, water and land in the highest quantities were:'

The substances disposed on-site and off-site in the highest quantities were:

On-site disposals to tailings and waste rock management areas accounted for 99% of reported disposals.

Remote regions also rely on gravel roads for travel across and within communities; this is a source of particulate matter. Road dust emissions are reported to the NPRI only when they originate from vehicles travelling on unpaved surfaces within a facility’s site. Releases of PM from road dust at mines and mills are included in the data in this story map to reflect the scope of communities’ exposure to sources of PM.

Releases of CO, PM and NOx by quantity in 2018

Releases of CO, PM and NOx by quantity in 2018
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Legend - Releases of CO, PM and NOx by quantity in 2018

Mercury

Substances will have varying effects on the environment depending on whether they are released to air, water or land, and how they move through the environment once released.

Mercury (Hg) is a naturally occurring element released from soil and rocks, and found in lakes and oceans. However, certain human activities, such as mining, also release mercury to the environment. In 2018, facilities in the region reported releases and disposals of 0.8 tonnes of mercury. Despite limited industrial activity in northern communities, mercury in northern ecosystems may be higher due to long-distance transport from source areas around the globe.

Humans are generally exposed to mercury through their diet, which, for many Canadians, is the consumption of fish. While the Cree Health Board states that mercury levels in most Cree are well below harmful levels, they provide fish consumption recommendations for various species, depending on where they were caught. View the Cree Health Board’s Healthy Fish Eating in Eeyou Istchee interactive map.

For more information on environmental health and pollutants, browse resources from the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay, and the Government of Canada.

Cree Health Board’s Healthy Fish Eating in Eeyou Istchee Map

Cree Health Board’s Healthy Fish Eating in Eeyou Istchee Map
Long Description

The Cree Health Board’s Healthy Fish Eating in Eeyou Istchee map shows the location of Cree communities within 5 drainage basins across Quebec. Specific communities and traplines can be selected. The map shows the maximum number of meals recommended of various species of fish, depending on where they are caught.

Mining

The Cree Nation Mining Policy (PDF) guides mineral exploration and mining activities in a manner that is sustainable and respectful of Cree rights and interests in all stages of a project. One of the underlying pillars of the policy is sustainable practices, including remediation processes. To ensure use of the land beyond the life of a mine, restoration and remediation of damaged ecosystems must accompany all phases of mining activity.

The Cree Mineral Exploration Board and Cree communities work together to enforce sustainable mineral exploration that generates direct benefits for the Cree population. The Board asserts that more than 90% of the region’s projects comply with the established high standards.

In 2018, 17 mining and quarrying facilities in the James Bay region reported to the NPRI. These facilities reported as gold and silver ore mines, diamond mines, iron ore mines, and copper-zinc ore mines. The mining sector releases pollutants directly to air from various activities, including:

The majority of substances in this sector were reported as on-site disposals to tailings and waste rock management areas (47,270 tonnes or 88%), followed by releases to air (5,155 tonnes or 10%).

The NPRI metal ore mining sector overview provides more information on this sector.

Releases by facilities in the mining and quarrying sector in 2018

Releases by facilities in the mining and quarrying sector in 2018
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Legend - Releases by facilities in the mining and quarrying sector in 2018

Contaminated sites

Across the James Bay region, there remains concern about contaminated and abandoned sites. As defined by the Government of Canada, contaminated sites are ones at which the concentration of a substance in the soil or ground water (usually a petroleum product or a metal) is higher than expected for that region of Canada. There must also be evidence that this concentration could pose hazards to human or environmental health. According to the Federal Contaminated Sites Inventory, there are 23 active sites in the James Bay region. The Government of Canada is involved in the majority of the region’s sites because the lands are classified as reserves under the Indian Act.

There are various reasons for the Government of Canada’s involvement in contaminated sites (for example, the activities occur on federal property or contractual obligation), and not all sites where contamination has occurred require its involvement. The proposed linkage between federal contaminated sites and NPRI facilities intends to demonstrate the potential for indirect land, air and water contamination from industrial activities. Disposals of toxic substances may indirectly contaminate soil or water, resulting in a contaminated site (for example, leaching from a landfill). In northern communities, diesel fuel from generators can also be a source of site contamination.

Disposals by mining and quarrying facilities in 2018, and location of federal contaminated sites

Disposals by mining and quarrying facilities in 2018, and location of federal contaminated sites
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Legend - Disposals by mining and quarrying facilities in 2018, and location of federal contaminated sites

Forest products

Forests, including their management and harvesting, continue to be a key concern for the Cree, particularly those in the southern Eeyou Istchee James Bay Territory where commercial development is more prominent.

The NPRI tracks substances released by three different subsectors associated with the forest industry:

In the James Bay region, 11 facilities reported to the pulp and paper sector and wood products sector in 2018. Of that total, the majority (eight) were sawmills in the wood products sector. The other three facilities were a newsprint mill, a waferboard mill, and a particleboard and fibreboard mill. Total releases and disposals from these two sectors in 2018 were primarily from the wood products sector (3,251 tonnes or 81%). No releases to land were reported in 2018.

The forest products sector in the James Bay region also supports the electricity sector. Most notably, one of the region’s sawmills is converting wood by-products (sawdust, shavings and bark) into wood pellets, used by another facility to produce energy from the forest biomass. Similarly, other facilities in the region generate thermal energy from wood residue that is gathered and reclaimed from former dumpsites.

For more information, visit the Natural Resources Canada overview on Indigenous peoples and forestry in Canada (PDF).

Releases by wood products and pulp and paper facilities in 2018

Releases by wood products and pulp and paper facilities in 2018
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Legend - Releases by wood products and pulp and paper facilities in 2018

Pollution in your community

Communities across Canada can use NPRI data to:

For further analysis, check out other NPRI maps and datasets. Learn more about pollution prevention and how individuals and facilities can help protect the environment.

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