WINGHAM, ONT. -- If a vote was held today on whether to bury Canada’s high level nuclear waste within the Saugeen Ojibway territory, north of Teeswater, Vernon Roote believes he knows the vote's outcome.

“If a vote were held tomorrow on the high-level waste, a lot of people would vote no for the sake of it, and I don’t know if that’s right or not,” says the former Saugeen First Nation Chief(SFN), and current SFN councillor.

Last January, the Saugeen Ojibway Nation voted 85 per cent against plans to bury Ontario’s low and intermediate level nuclear waste along the shores of Lake Huron. 

Saugeen members will have a similar decision to make on plans to bury Canada’s high-level nuclear waste under 1,500 acres of farmland, north of Teeswater, because the planned project also falls within their traditional territory.

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization says the project will not be built without SON’s consent.

“Well it’s important now because that’s what was agreed to as part of the treaties. So there’s constitutional rights that are at play,” says NWMO’s Indigenous Knowledge and Reconciliation Section Manager, Jessica Perritt.

SON leadership have said they didn’t ask for nuclear waste to be created and temporarily stored in their territory, but now, they must be part of deciding its fate.

“We’ve got to treat our people, not like the olden days where the Indian Agent didn’t even allow us to think or make decisions. We can make decisions for ourselves,” says Roote.

And while there’s a belief today, that most SON members would vote against the current proposal to bury over five million used nuclear fuel rods within their traditional territory, there’s fear of what another “no” vote would mean.

“What are you doing to see about recycling it? What are the other ways other than burying it in the earth,” says Joanne Keeshig, who organized a SON Water Walk past the proposed nuclear waste site last month.

“That being said, I don’t think we can run away, and I don’t think we can say no, flat out. We need to find solutions. We need to be sitting at the table with the common interest of solving this issue,” she says.

“If we say no altogether, that may put us outside of that window looking in. And I don’t know if that’s fair to the people or not, as well,” says SFN councillor, Roote.

Members of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation and residents of South Bruce have until 2023 to decide if they want to permanently house Canada’s first and only underground nuclear waste storage facility.