Episode 69: Environmental Racism and Canadian History
This post is part of an ongoing series called, “Whose Nature? Race and Canadian Environmental History” This series examines the intersections of race and environment in Canada’s past and asks how human-nature relations are affected by ideas of race and racism.
In recent weeks, political commentators and some Canadian politicians have questioned and even denied that Canada has a history of systemic racism. To most Canadian historians, however, systemic racism is an obvious and pernicious part of the history of this country. The same is true in Canadian environmental history and evident in the legacies of environmental racism.
As environmental organizations like the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, and others come to terms with their own legacies of racism, environmental history as a sub-field must also confront the ways in which racism is embedded in the histories we study. In Canada, this must begin with a better understanding of histories of environmental racism.
The field of environmental racism emerged in the 1980s in the US out of the scholarship on environmental justice and the work of the Commission for Racial Justice. It examines the ways in which racism shaped inequitable exposure to environmental hazards and access to natural resources. In Canadian history, environmental racism is mediated through the structures of settler colonialism upon which the country was founded.
Ingrid Waldron’s book, There’s Something in the Water: Environmental Racism in Indigenous and Black Communities focuses on case studies of environmental racism in Canada with particular attention to Mi’kmaw and Afro-Nova Scotian communities. This book inspired a 2019 Netflix documentary of the same name. To learn more about this history, I spoke with Dr. Waldron.
Waldron, Ingrid. There’s Something in the Water: Environmental Racism in Indigenous and Black Communities. Black Point, NS: Fernwood, 2018.
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Aeration ponds, Boat Harbour effluent treatment ponds, Abercrombie Point, Nova Scotia (1990s). Source: Verne Equinox
Kheraj, Sean. “Episode 69: Environmental Racism and Canadian History” Nature’s Past: Canadian Environmental History Podcast. 29 July 2020.
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