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April 17, 2023

The ENRICH Project: Supporting equity-seeking communities by confronting environmental racism

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The ENRICH Project: Supporting equity-seeking Communities by confronting environmental racism

April 10, 2023

For Indigenous, Black, and people of colour across Canada, adverse environmental impacts and environmental racism are commonplace.

Environmental racism is the disproportionate exposure of Indigenous, Black and other equity-seeking communities to environmental pollutants and contaminants as well as the typical indifference of neighbours, industry and governments.

“These are communities that have not had a seat at the table in terms of helping to develop policy, so environmental racism is an outcome of environmental policy,” says Dr. Ingrid Waldron, Professor and HOPE Chair in Peace and Health at McMaster University’s Global Peace and Social Justice Program. “These communities’ recommendations rarely inform policy or are enforced and as a result, environmental racism can continue to manifest over time and intergenerationally.”

In 2012, Dr. Waldron launched The ENRICH (Environmental Noxiousness, Racial Inequities and Community Health) Project to address the social, environmental, political, and health impacts of environmental racism in Mi’kmaw and African Nova Scotian communities in Nova Scotia.

“In the south end of Shelburne, which is predominantly an African Nova Scotian community, they’ve had a dump in their community since the early 1940s and over that time they’ve had a lot of deaths.” notes Dr. Waldron.  “In the case of Shelburne, cancer, respiratory illness, skin diseases, depression and [poor]mental health are outcomes of living near a dump. “

The ENRICH Project builds relationships that enable communities to research, identify and address their own concerns. In Shelburne, that spurred the creation of Rural Water Watch and the South End Environmental Injustice Society (SEED). The Project has also worked with Mi’kmaw communities in the province, including Pictou Landing First Nation, where Northern Pulp discharged pollutants into their coastal waters for over 50 years.

“Everything comes from them. You are there to listen and learn,” says Dr. Waldron of The ENRICH Project’s approach to working with communities. “And the advantage – or the privilege – I have, is money in the form of a grant. I can offer support to a community-based project through humanpower and a deep network of experts who can come in and contribute.”

SEED remains instrumental in bringing cleaner water to the south end and their work – as well as Dr. Waldron’s –  encouraged the creation last December of a Nova Scotia government panel empowered to document environmental racism and make recommendations about diversity, equity and inclusion for the province’s Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act.

“The harms of environmental racism have affected too many communities in Nova Scotia, especially African Nova Scotian and Mi’kmaw communities,” said Pat Dunn, the minister responsible for the Office of Equity and Anti-Racism Initiatives. “This panel is one step to address these wrongs and build a more just future.” The group is expected to make recommendations to the province by the end of this year.

“Building capacity in communities is my favorite thing because I’ve seen what it can do. I go back to Shelburne as the perfect example of a community-based project that really worked,” says Dr. Waldron. “I got into the community; I developed relationships. I identified a leader by the name of Louise Delisle, and then I started connecting her to different government agencies and experts. And now Shelburne flies on its own. They don’t need me anymore. And that’s the goal.”

In 2020, the ENRICH Project became affiliated with MakeWay’s shared platform and expanded its scope to examine and address both environmental racism and climate change impacts in Indigenous, Black, and other equity-seeking communities across Canada.

Last year, in partnership with Toronto Environmental Alliance and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, they launched a climate-change preparedness initiative in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area to build awareness, knowledge, leadership skills and a network to undertake climate work. (The Catherine Donnelly Foundation is a supporter of that project.)

Further reading and viewing about The ENRICH Project and environmental racism:

Learn more about The ENRICH Project at their website.

Read Dr. Ingrid Waldron’s 2018 book There’s Something in the Water, which chronicles the legacy of environmental racism and its health impacts in Indigenous and Black communities in Canada, was published in 2018.

Watch the 2019 documentary There’s Something in the Water with actor Elliot Page. View the official trailer here.