Eel Ground First Nation forester makes surprise appearance at pesticide hearings

·4 min read
Steve Ginnish referenced the discoveries of what are believed to be almost 1,000 unmarked graves at two former residential schools, one in Kamloops, B.C., and the other in the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan. (Government of New Brunswick - image credit)
Steve Ginnish referenced the discoveries of what are believed to be almost 1,000 unmarked graves at two former residential schools, one in Kamloops, B.C., and the other in the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan. (Government of New Brunswick - image credit)

The final day of hearings into New Brunswick's use of glyphosate took an emotional turn Friday when a member of the Eel Ground First Nation appeared before the committee.

Steve Ginnish, director of forestry for Eel Ground-based Mi'gmawe'l Tplu'taqnn Inc., noted he was a late addition to the hearings' agenda.

"We were not initially invited to participate in the hearings but felt it was important and necessary for you to hear an Indigenous perspective, so we asked to be added to the witness list," Ginnish said.

Ginnish outlined basic treaty rights and shared his frustration with the province's spraying of glyphosate, which he says has "directly affected our medicines, food supply and therefore the health of our community members."

Harvest practices the big issue, Ginnish says

"We have long argued that more consideration is given to industry when it comes to forest management than to the actual health of the forest," he said.

"Concerns about defoliation by insects and pests like the spruce budworm are nothing compared to how the forests are harvested, as far as we see it."

He also pointed out that the land and forests being debated by the committee are unceded.

"New Brunswick is unceded, unsurrendered territory of the Mi'kmaq, Wolastoqiyik and the Passamaquoddy people, historically known as the Wabanaki confederacy," he said..

"So when we talk about the natural forest, it's the Wabanaki forest. It's not the Acadian forest."

'Ancestors making their voices heard'

Ginnish, who wore an orange T-shirt bearing the words Every Child Matters, also referred to the discoveries of what are believed to be 1,000 unmarked graves at two former residential schools in Western Canada.

"You see the current events happening now, our ancestors are making their voice heard," Ginnish told the committee members, his voice breaking with emotion.

"And I hope this world wakes up — the greatest country in the world, as it's portrayed around the world. Well, some dirty closet secrets are coming out now."

Members of the committee thanked Ginnish for the lessons he shared, and many offered apologies.

"I'm sorry, personally, for what has happened," Carleton MLA Bill Hogan said.

Ginnish said he respected the sentiments but "it is nobody's fault in this room."

"Nobody in this room, in my opinion, needs to apologize, but we do need acknowledgement as to what state, religion and government have done to our people," he said.

"It's hard to see an institution that is the richest institution on the face of this earth … that is said to be the structure of forgiveness and understanding with respect to mankind as a whole, but you get nothing from them."

Government of New Brunswick
Government of New Brunswick

Committee looks forward

What would it take to wean New Brunswick off glyphosate?

The question came up several times on the final day of hearings Friday, when the tone shifted from debate over the pros and cons of glyphosate to a more forward-looking approach to the province's use of the controversial herbicide.

Earlier in the week, representatives from the forestry and agriculture sector, environmental advocates and others made their case for or against pesticide use.

On Friday, committee members pushed for ideas about where New Brunswick goes from here.

Natural Resources Minister Mike Holland asked board members with Forest NB, the first presenters in the morning, why New Brunswick is "unique" in its dependence on herbicides such as glyphosate to manage its forests.

"Surely there are jurisdictions that operate a viable, economically sustainable forestry [industry] without herbicide," Holland said. "Because I have a hard time believing that we need that exclusively here to be successful in New Brunswick."

Government of New Brunswick
Government of New Brunswick

Forest NB board member Mike Legere said that Scandinavian countries, including Sweden, Finland and Norway, have done so.

However, he said, those jurisdictions have different forest types and have invested much more heavily in forestry management and timber production.

"They are probably 200 years ahead of us in terms of silviculture," Legere said.

Committee member and People's Alliance MLA Michelle Conroy asked Legere about reports that have linked glyphosate to carcinogenic risk and said she thinks more study is needed.

"My biggest concern is there are no studies if it's in the water, if it's in the food, if it's in the dust we're inhaling when we're driving along the trails."

Legere disagreed.

"There's a difference between a study and monitoring," he said. "I don't disagree with some of the comments from past presenters, and maybe we should be monitoring. But studies? It's been studied to death."

The hearings, which also heard from Health Canada pesticide agency representatives and an Albert County farmer, Moranda Van Geest, who opposes glyphosate use, wrapped up in the afternoon.

The committee will now review the presentations and deliver recommendations to the Legislature.

READ MORE ON THE FOUR-DAY HEARINGS

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