A champion of the environment, Deputy Grand Chief Mandy Gull is campaigning for a styrofoam ban in Eeyou Istchee because of the long-term impact it has on the land.
As more Crees are buying meals in disposable containers, Gull said it is easy to forget where all those styrofoam containers or plates end up – nearby landfills where they remain in the earth for hundreds of years.
Last year, Gull learned how toxic the process is to create styrofoam and just how long a single-use container would be around for.
“It will take many lifetimes for that cup or container to melt away and it still leaves behind chemical,” she insisted. “This really bothered me; it’s so cheap and readily available I had to make sure Cree people knew about it. These days there are alternatives and we need to change our behaviour when it comes to what we buy. We can’t say we didn’t know.”
Gull said that last March the Cree Nation Government passed a challenge to ban styrofoam and since then individual communities have either passed similar resolutions or are discussing it. She said the neighbouring Jamesian communities also support the ban and have passed their own resolutions.
At the same time, there has been some push back from retailers who say it is hard to accommodate the ban, but Gull said that every supplier in the North now offers some kind of alternative.
“It’s a bit more expensive, but we cannot save a few pennies when it comes to damaging the environment for hundreds of years. One eco-container can cost anywhere from a quarter to a dollar more, but it will dissolve in weeks or months. Is the alternative to spend less on something that will take from 500 years to a million to dissolve and leaves behind chemicals poisoning water and soil? I think the choice is obvious,” said Gull.
While the CNG hasn’t offered incentives to local businesses to start using environmentally safe packaging, Gull said that it shouldn’t be necessary as the will to change should be driven by the businesses. She added that Cree businesses should want to reduce their environmental footprint.
Gull says there has been a lot of success promoting more eco-friendly alternatives throughout the Cree Nation on an individual level when it comes to buying food as well as when it comes to those selling food. The biggest success she said are the new “dish-washing stations” that are now available in various locations so that people can wash their own containers.
What she likes best about this is that it’s what Crees have always done before disposable containers became available.
“I had the opportunity to travel to many places and I haven’t seen forests like the ones in our territory,” she observed. “Eeyou Istchee has some beautiful places tucked away and we all cherish what we have. I grew up on a trapline that was heavily affected by forestry and I have a dream to minimize impact on untouched areas. Sometimes it’s challenging to develop as a nation, but we have a duty as stewards to balance it and when it’s challenging we side with the environment every time.”