(last updated 7 Sep 2005)
On September 6, 2005, Déline community members were given the findings of a five-year effort to examine the health and environmental impacts of the government-owned radium and uranium mine that operated from 1931 to 1960. Radiation exposure has long been a concern of the Dene residents of Déline, especially for the 35 people who worked transporting uranium ore from the mine and weren't told of its potential risks. Déline, a community of about 550 people across the lake on the ore transport route, lost so many of its men to cancer it became known as the Village of Widows. "The report itself made it clear that there is a difficulty trying to link direct cancer with being exposed to radiation," said Danny Gaudet, the negotiator representing Déline. "But at the same time we cannot deny that maybe they did die of cancer (from radiation exposure). We can't prove it either way." Gaudet said the community has lost 15 former ore transport workers to cancer. The report found the numbers are too small to accurately study the link. One study showed that based on a reconstruction of radiation doses the workers would have been exposed to, one or two more cancer deaths would be expected in addition to the nine or 10 that would normally be expected in a similar group. (CP Sep 6, 2005)
DÉLINE DENE BAND COUNCIL
We are concerned, in particular, about:
On Sunday, March 22, 1998, we held a community meeting in which we released to the community evidence of Canadian government prior knowledge and ongoing complicity in the environmental crime we have suffered.
Speaking for the Dene First Nation of Déline, and its Band Uranium Committee, Chief Raymond Tutcho said:
"We the Dene have been subjected to over 60 years of horrible injustice because of apparent national interests. Our people have paid for this with our lives and the health of our community, lands and waters. We have set out a "Plan for Essential Response and Necessary Redress". It is a constructive and minimum response to the ongoing impacts of uranium mining on the Dene people and lands".At our Community meeting last weekend we decided to present this plan to the Canadian government, and the Ministers of Indian Affairs, Health and Mines. These Ministers have stated they are "concerned", and that this is a "horrible situation". We are hopeful that they will agree that our plan is a reasonable response to the injustices we have suffered. Our plan includes:
For further information: Cindy Kenny-Gilday, +1-867-873-4695 or Andrew Orkin, +1-905-529-3476
The community of Déline, N.W.T. has a Dene population of 800
people. We are located right on the shore of Sahtu (Great Bear
Lake) about 300 miles north of Yellowknife NT. We are the only
tribe and the only human community on this lake. Sahtu (Great
Bear Lake) is the ninth largest in the world and the fifth
largest in Canada. Great Bear Lake is probably the last fresh
water lakes in the world.
The area on the north shore of Sahtu (Great Bear Lake) has been the site of radium mining from 1934 to 1939, then a uranium mine from 1943 to 1962 and as a silver mine from 1962 to 1982. The Dene of Déline, mostly men worked as labourers and as coolies carrying gunny sacks of radioactive uranium ore and concentrates on the transportation route. Tons of tailings both radium and uranium mine were dumped directly into the lake and used as landfill. In 1975 young men from Déline were sent to work in the tunnels on a Government training program without masks for radon gas exposure. In 1997 ten young men were sent with two hours of training to clean up "hot spots" of radioactive soil in Sawmill Bay without shower facilities. There was no other industrial presence before this Port Radium mine or any other since their closure to date.
Port Radium was owned and operated by a crown corporation of Government of Canada. Uranium ore and concentrates were extracted, milled and sold to the US Government for the Manhattan project. The US Government tested the explosions in Navada near another First Nations reservation. They built the atomic bomb which they dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. All without informing the Dene and all without the consent of the Dene of Déline, the First Nations whose land, resources and people were used.
Because of the subsistence livelihood which continues to date, our people the Dene travel extensively on seasonal and rotational basis around the lake; following their main food source, the caribou and the fish. Not just the men but families were generally exposed to the various waste landfills and lake dumps over the years. They were not warned about the hazardous nature of these ores and tailings, and took no precaution with respect to working with this toxic substance, their drinking water or their traditional foods.
It is only recently that the Dene of Déline were informed of these exposures. They have been advised of "hot spots" of radioactivity in the Sawmill Bay area, one of the areas for which they traded other territory in their land claims agreement because of its subsistence priority use. Bennet fields, spiritual gathering grounds was also confirmed by the Government of Canada as contaminated. The Dene of Déline are now living in fear of their land, water, animals and worried for their own health and survival.
Déline is practically a village of widows, most of the men who worked as labourers 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.
> See also: Cancer killed 14 uranium workers: Echoes of the Atomic Age (Calgary Herald, March 14, 1998)
> Search Northern News Services (Yellowknife) archive for "uranium"
> Port Radium decommissioning (Northwest Territories)
WISE Uranium Project (home)