Indigenous-led Assessment Urges Relocation of Radioactive Waste Dump from Ottawa River

Since time immemorial, the Kebaowek First Nation have been the caretakers of their ancestral lands and the life-giving waters of the Kichi Sibi (Ottawa river). Despite the ongoing harms of colonization, the resilient spirit of the Anishinabeg Algonquin people has ensured that life’s abundance and biodiversity endure.

However, there is a real threat of severe environmental damage to Kebaowek’s territory and the Kichi Sibi that could alter the lands and waters forever.

The Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF) proposed by Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) is a project that Kebaowek does not want on their unceded territory. While there needs to be a solution for radioactive waste from nuclear research and development, this project is not the solution and this NSDF must be stopped.

As the pursuit for environmental justice is being brought to court in July, big questions arise: What will forever be lost if NSDF proceeds? What access to land and waters will be denied? Will the Kichi Sibi and its landscape be forever altered?

Kebaowek argues that UNDRIP should have been a part of the consultation process,  with their free, prior, and informed consent being required before this nuclear waste dump was approved. 

Kebaowek and Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg created their own Environmental Impact Assessment of the NSDF in 2023. The Environmental Assessment (EA) conducted by the nuclear regulator was dismissive of concerns raised by Kebaowek and community members. Evident from the Indigenous-led EA report by Kebaowek, the site is a sacred home to many. Listening to Kebaowek means protecting us all from the poisoning of the Kichi Sibi and the land from toxic nuclear waste.

Where is the Radioactive Waste Dump?

The approved NSDF is approximately 180 kilometres upriver from Ottawa, the capital city of Canada. The project would be at Chalk River nuclear laboratories, a  3700-hectare nuclear research and development facility. It has been in existence since the Second World War (check out this blog to learn more about its history: Blog: History of Nuclear Power on Kebaowek’s Territory).

The nuclear infrastructure at Chalk River was built without the consent of the Algonquin Nation. The NSDF site is on the Perch Lake Watershed that flows directly into the Kichi Sibi.

The nuclear research and development facility also sits directly across from a sacred cultural site. Known by some as Kinew Kiishkaabikaan, Migizi Kiishkaabikaan, or “Oiseau Rock,” the rock cliff has been a ceremonial site for thousands of years. Anishinabeg Algonquin people were outlawed from practicing ceremonies, and only in 2001 did they go back to Migizi Kiishkaabikaan for a reconnection ceremony. Unfortunately, ancient pictographs have been desecrated by settlers in recent decades, demonstrating how the attempted erasure of Indigenous cultures is not a thing of the past, but an ongoing process that deeply affects reconciliation and healing. 

The Land

Indigenous researchers went to the proposed NSDF site during the winter and summer as part of the Indigenous-led assessment to record its biodiversity, including the abundance and diversity of trees. 

Most of the 37 hectares of the proposed NSDF site is old-growth forest which will be completely destroyed. The average tree size is 58cm diameter at breast height (DBH), with the largest tree surveyed at the site being chigwatik (a white pine) at 118cm. Chigwatik holds cultural significance as the leader of the plant world, connecting Annishinabeg people to wolves and black bears. Healthy stands of Black Ash, an endangered species as of 2022, are at the site alongside endangered milkweed and several bat species.

The Animals

Below are just a few of the many animals whose homes would be destroyed by the NSDF.

  • Mooz (Moose) – Mooz travel through the NSDF site, which Kebaowek First Nation and other Algonquin members hunt and eat. They are concerned that moose travelling through Chalk River Laboratories will be contaminated by the radioactive waste and cause irreversible harm to those who hunt and eat them.
  • Makwa (Black Bear) – at least four active makwa dens are in the NSDF site. Over 60% of Kebaowek members surveyed said that makwa are a “powerful spirit” in Algonquin culture. They are considered sacred to Anishinabeg Algonquin people, showing them where medicinal plants are and helping them when they need it. The fact that these makwa dens would disappear because of the NSDF site is deeply concerning.
  • Ma’hingan (Wolves) – Similar to makwa, ma’hingan are sacred to Anishinabeg Algonquin people, symbolizing guardianship, loyalty, and humbleness. Eastern Wolves are considered a threatened species by Ontario and Canada and Kebaowek has proven, through their Indigenous-led assessment, that they are active on the Chalk River site. 

The Fish 

Kebaowek is particularly concerned about several fish species that could be affected by the NSDF. This includes at-risk and culturally significant species, such as pimisi (Eels, Anguilla rostrata) and neme (Lake Sturgeon, Acpenser fulvescens), that the Algonquin-Anishinaabe people have stewarded since time immemorial. 

Hickorynut mussels (Obovaria olivaria), an at-risk species, live on the banks of the Kichi Sibi, which, along with many other mussels, purify the water. The mussel species also have a symbiotic relationship with neme; the larvae of the mussels attach onto the gills of neme, who swim to new spots on the river for the mussels to repopulate. In return, the Hickorynut mussels provide clean water for neme and all species to live in.   

Although Kebaowek and other Algonquin Nations fish for many different types of fish, pimisi and neme hold significant cultural importance. Pimisi is medicine, food, and a trade item. neme has been found in very high numbers from archeological digs at historic sites, demonstrating the food staple the at-risk species once had. Now, Kebaowek First Nation and other Algonquin Anishinaabe members have to restrict their fishing practices of these species due to hydroelectric dams on the Kichi Sibi. 


The heartbeat of the Kebaowek First Nation resonates through the ancient forests and shimmering waters. Across generations, the Anishinabeg Algonquin people have been land guardians and stewards of their ancestral lands, nurturing a tapestry of life that weaves through the fabric of their culture and identity.

Yet, the proposed Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF) stands as a sentinel of potential devastation. Endangered old growth forest could be lost and thereby the animals that depend upon those forests for survival. The homes for generations of black bears could be bulldozed over. 

Toxic nuclear waste would flow into the Kichi Sibi, forever, contaminating the drinking water for nine million people living downstream.

In the end, the struggle over the NSDF transcends colonial policy — it is a struggle for the soul of a nation, the spirit of a people, and the future of the Kichi Sibi watershed and the unceded territory of the Algonquin People. May Kebaowek’s resilient pursuit for justice inspire us all to act in solidarity with the stewards of the land, guardians of the waters, and champions of a nuclear-waste free Kichi Sibi where all life can thrive.

Donate to support Kebaowek now.

Take Action