Friday, June 13, 2008

A First Nation apology to Japan

In 1942, Minister of Munitions and Supply C.D. Howe re-opened a uranium mine at Great Bear Lake to supply uranium for the World War II atomic bomb program. Although the dangers of working with uranium were known at the time, no one in the government saw fit to inform the Dene First Nation of Sahtu, the Sahtugot'ine, who were hired to work the mine in Port Radium. After 20 years of unknowingly polluting their freshwater resource and irradiating themselves, the Sahtugot'ine workers started to die from lung, colon, and kidney cancers. They lost a generation :

"Deline is practically a village of widows, most of the men who worked as laborers have died of some form of cancer. The widows, who are traditional women, were left to raise their families with no breadwinners, supporters. They were left to depend on welfare and other young men for their traditional food source.
This village of young men are the first generation of men in the history of Dene on this lake to grow up without guidance from their grandfathers, fathers and uncles. This cultural, economic, spiritual, emotional deprivation impact on the community is a threat to the survival of the one and only tribe on Great Bear Lake."

As this Dominion article states : "The Sahtugot'ine were sacrificed for an effort that ultimately slaughtered hundreds of thousands.

On 6 August 1945, B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped Fat Man on Hiroshima, a city of 343,000, killing 100,000 people immediately and leveling the city.
In 1998, six members of the Sahtugot'ine went to Japan to commemorate the victims of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, an atrocity that some Sahtugot'ine unwittingly had a hand in, a role they now regret."

Six Sahtogot'ine survivors, victims of the same atomic program that levelled Hiroshima, went to Japan to commemorate their complicity in an atrocity they hadn't known they had contributed to at the time. That's what grown-ups do when confronted with an unintended consequence of their actions. Perhaps those currently weaselling against the PM's apology to the First Nations on our behalf - I didn't do it! It was along time ago! - would like to consider how their argument stacks up compared to the First Nation apology to Japanese victims.

With thanks to Waterbaby for the Dominion article.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Not only Great Bear Lake .... there is a trail of radio active sites all down the Athabasca River even into Fort McMurray. (where some of the contaminated soil was used for landfill for housing developments).

A researcher of the Atomic Energy Commission found an old barge used to transport the pitchblend on the shore of Lake Athabasca in Fort Chip in 1990. Children were playing in the rusty relic ....

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