January 27, 2013, 10:58 p.m. ET
Struggling Native Tribes Press Canada to Act
Unemployment, Poverty and Pollution Spur More Aboriginal Activists to Demand Government Take Notice, Provide Help
By ALISTAIR MACDONALD
AAMJIWNAANG RESERVE, OntarioŚNestled amid an industrial complex nicknamed Chemical Valley, the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, one of Canada's many semiautonomous native tribes, has placed itself at the front lines of some of the country's most significant aboriginal protests in years.
For weeks, native groups across Canada, demanding a greater share of natural-resource royalties and more consultation on environmental issues, have blocked train lines and roads; this month 65 Aamjiwnaang joined hundreds more native activists in briefly shutting down traffic along the nearby Ambassador Bridge to Detroit.
Such demonstrations are a continuation of years of activism by the Aamjiwnaang, amid long-strained relations between native groups and the Canadian government. The Aamjiwnaang reserve, a collection of modest, two-story houses on nearly five square miles of flat land outside the city of Sarnia, Ontario, harbors many of the ills that protests have attempted to highlight, including high unemployment and poverty on native-run land.
The smell of nearby refinery operations hangs heavy here. A road into the reserve crosses a creek marked off-limits because of "toxic substances." Sarnia is one of the three most polluted spots in Canada, according to the World Health Organization.