By Mike Stimpson
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A year after publicly disclosing a confidential agreement between Grand Council Treaty #3 and the Nuclear Waste Management Organization, Ojibways of Onigaming First Nation Chief Jeffrey Copenace remains against a proposed “deep geological repository” for nuclear waste.
“I’m firmly against,” Copenace said in an interview this week before Grand Council Treaty #3’s annual fall assembly at the CDC Building in Wauzhushk Onigum (Rat Portage) Nation.
In 2022, GCT3 leaders signed what they characterized as a “relationship agreement” with the NWMO in which the nuclear organization agrees to give nearly $6 million to GCT3 for various things, including “community engagement” and a policy analyst. The NWMO has termed the document a “Learn More Agreement.”
Copenace shared images of the two-year agreement on social media before last year’s fall assembly.
The document states it “does not provide or imply consent to the long-term management of used nuclear fuel in Treaty #3 Territory,” but Copenace is skeptical.
He said last year on social media that the agreement is not neutral but rather for “advancement” of a deep geological repository in Northwestern Ontario.
The underground repository, if built, would store waste from nuclear power plants. Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation territory near Ignace is one of two finalists for siting the facility, along with a location near South Bruce in southwestern Ontario.
“I’m still disappointed that this is still going through,” Copenace said this week.
“I’m still disappointed that First Nations have, you know, accepted money to advance the project. I’m disappointed that Grand Council Treaty 3 has accepted money to advance the project.”
Requests for comment from GCT3 went unanswered.
Copenace said his concerns include potential peril to Northwest waters which have already been impacted by mining.
It’s a big gamble, he said, with wildlife and Anishinaabe culture at stake.
His position on the nuclear waste repository and the Learn More Agreement is a majority view in his community, he said.
“You know, none of the actions that I’ve done in the past two years as chief, whether it’s speaking to protect our women or speaking to protect our youth or speaking to protect our way of life, has been done on my own,” he said.
“This is the direction of our elders. This is the direction of our youth. This is the direction of our community members.
“I would say we’re unified.”
Mike Stimpson/ Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/THUNDER BAY SOURCE/LJI is a federally funded program