The Nuclear Waste Management Organization’s (NWMO) Council of Elders and Youth is an independent advisory body that is instrumental in providing counsel on the application of Indigenous Knowledge to the NWMO’s proposed national infrastructure project, to store used nuclear fuel for the long term.

“The NWMO does not just have dialogue with us once or twice and say they have successfully consulted with Indigenous peoples. It is not a ‘tick the box’ exercise for them,” said Elder Augustine, Mi’kmaw Elder from Elsipogtog First Nation and member of the Council. “They have been dialoguing with us for twenty years and they take what we say to heart and put it into practice in their work. Many organizations can learn from the NWMO on how to successfully put Reconciliation into practice. It is a journey and the NWMO is on the right path.”

In May, the Council came together for its first in-person three-day gathering since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. On the first day of the meeting, everyone was invited to a Traditional Sunrise Ceremony around a sacred fire. Additional Elder-guided, purposeful actions included the sharing of smudge, the sacred blessing of water to emphasize the importance of its protection and place in all Creation, a traditional food offering of blueberries, along with traditional songs, drums, and Pipe ceremony.

“If I talk, I can’t listen,” said Bob Watts, Vice President of Indigenous Relations and Strategic Programs for the NWMO. “The reason for this meeting is to actively listen to the advice, counsel, and guidance that this beautiful Council provides to us. We have been engaging with them since day one and have and continue to learn so much. But we cannot do this without putting into practice what we are taught in a good and honourable way.”

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As part of its work, the NWMO made a public commitment to Reconciliation in 2019 with the formalization of its Reconciliation Policy. This lays out a path toward ReconcilACTION with the development of an annual implementation plan to measure and publicly report on its progress as an organization.

“The Council is challenging the organization to ensure it is thinking of long-term sustainability and the impact of the project on generations to come,” says Pamela Bishop-Byers, manager of Indigenous Knowledge & Reconciliation at the NWMO.

“Introducing Indigenous Knowledge models like the Haudenosaunee ‘Seventh Generation Principle,’ encourages the organization to always think and be responsible for the seven generations ahead of us,” added Ms. Bishop-Byers. “This Principle enriches organizational dialogue as related to the NWMO’s Reconciliation efforts and identifies new alignment for our work from Indigenous perspectives.”

During the past two years of the pandemic, the Council met virtually showing their resilience and dedication as advisors to the NWMO.

The Council’s mission statement and Declaration of the Keepers of the Land are commitments to provide counsel to the NWMO that will help protect and preserve all creation: air, land, fire, water, plants, medicines, animals, and humankind – guided by the seven universal teachings of love, trust, sharing, honesty, humility, respect, and wisdom.

“We must take care of this nuclear waste now, so it doesn’t burden our future generations. We have to always keep in mind that we need Mother Earth to survive but she does not need us,” said Elder Augustine.

Featured image: The NWMO’s Council of Elders and Youth gather for their first in-person meeting after two years due to the pandemic. (NWMO)

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