Indigenous water walkers and Haudenosaunee Development Institute urge Hamilton to listen amid sewage spill

When Kristen Villebrun learned that the City of Hamilton had recently discovered sewage had been flowing into the harbor for 26 years, she was upset.

Villebrun said she and other water walkers have been complaining about sewage in the water for years.

“I’m sick of talking and it’s falling on deaf ears,” said Villebrun, an Anishinaabe woman also known as Wassode nibi kwe (woman of shining water).

Water walkers are members of the indigenous community who lead walks along the water and pray for its health.

Villebrun has already led demonstrations on the local water conditions like Chedoke Creek – where 24 billion liters of sewage leaked between 2014 and 2018 – but said it was never taken seriously.

Now, she said she hopes the city will listen to her and others to prevent this from happening again.

WATCH: City discovers 26-year-old sewer leak

City of Hamilton discovers 26-year-old sewage leak in Hamilton Harbor

The City of Hamilton says it has discovered sewage flowing into Hamilton Harbor since 1996 due to a hole in a combined industrial sewer line.

The city discovered the leak in late November near Wentworth Street North and Burlington Street East.

He said he believes 337 million liters of wastewater sank in the harbor from 1996 until they noticed a design flaw in the sewer line and fixed it.

City spokeswoman Emily Trotta told CBC Hamilton the city has contacted Mississaugas of Credit First Nation, Six Nations of the Grand River, Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council and Huron Wendat Nation by phone and by email after discovering the spill.

But Villebrun and other local and urban indigenous leaders have had a difficult relationship with the municipality.

“We have this [faulty sewer] pipe, how many more are there? And what steps will be taken to investigate further and how will the Haudenosaunee participate in this process? said Aaron Detlor, an attorney with the Haudenosaunee Development Institute (HDI).

A man stands on a bridge over water
Aaron Detlor said the City of Hamilton needs to consult with Haudenosaunee leaders on how to care for Chedoke Creek and the harbor. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Detlor and HDI tried to convince the city to consult with them to clean up the billions of gallons of sewage that poured into Chedoke Creek.

Talks did not progress, leading the city to suspend efforts to clean up the water.

The City must “close the gap” with its Aboriginal partners: a councilor

Trotta said how HDI and water walkers might be involved in a harbor cleanup “is not yet determined” and the city is still trying to figure out how or if they can clean up the spill.

“If a project is planned, a consultation would take place within the framework of this project,” she wrote.

Gary Wheeler, spokesman for the province’s environment department, told CBC Hamilton the department has not yet ordered the city to undertake cleanup “as the scope is still being defined. “.

Trotta also acknowledged how water walkers raised issues about Chedoke Creek as early as 2015 and said the city could have handled communication about it better.

“That said, a lot of work was done to verify our infrastructure in 2015, and new studies were initiated as a result (which later turned into program changes, such as the expansion of our tailings dam program) “, she said, referring to the program that monitors “debris accumulations” at sewage outlets.

“Unfortunately there was no indication reported by Hamilton Water staff in 2015 of the discharge taking place at the Main/King [combined sewer overflows] tank,” she says.

She also said the participation of water walkers in the upcoming discussions was “welcome”.

People wearing hard hats and safety vests stand around a hole in the road as a machine drives a tube through it.
The city said it expects the province to issue an order to clean up the sewage that spilled into Lake Ontario. (Aicha Smith-Belghaba/CBC)

District 2 Com. Cameron Kroetsch told a Dec. 2 General Issues Committee meeting that the city needs to “close the gap” with Indigenous communities.

City Manager Janette Smith responded by saying there was an urban Indigenous office and strategy, but “we’re not making as much progress as we would like”.

“Part of it is, as we work and understand better and listen a lot, to move forward on this strategy, we’re not going to rush to tick a box that it’s done,” she said, adding that the city needs more staff for its urban aboriginal office.

Eleven city councilors met with several urban Indigenous community leaders on Monday to discuss a range of issues and how to move forward with better collaboration between the city and Indigenous partners here.

Villebrun said she wanted to see action next.

“We have to do better,” she said.

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