On Thursday September 19, 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear the appeal of Grassy Narrows towards treaty rights and against clear-cutting on their traditional lands.
Despite a 2011 ruling in the courts supporting Grassy Narrows’ autonomy over what happens on its traditional territory, on March 18, 2013, this ruling was overturned in the Ontario Court of Appeals.
Now, the First Nations community can take their case to the Supreme Court.
Clear-cutting by corporations such as Abitibi Consolidated have threatened the environment and traditional way of life of this strong, traditional community – this includes the ability to hunt and trap on their traditional territory not ripped apart by logging companies.
Grassy Narrows is unfortunately infamous for its mercury contamination at the hands of the Canadian government and industry – residents of the Anishinaabe community are still looking for justice.
While residents did receive a settlement in 1985 from the Canadian government and the Reed Paper Company that bought-out the Dryden Pulp and Paper Company and its sister-company Dryden Chemical Company, the toxic mercury was never removed from the water. Testing in 2012 found mercury levels low but a health advisory is still in effect regarding the fish and water.
The Grassy Narrows community has appealed to Ontario politician Kathleen Wynne when she was Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and now as premier of the province.
In December of 2012, the community celebrated the ten year anniversary of their blockade to protect their land, trees, water and way of life.
There is more cause of celebration now as the Keewatin v. MNR (Ministry of Natual Resources) – which has been making its way through the courts for fourteen years – case will be heard by the highest court in the land.
What is at stake is the Ontario government’s jurisdiction over its ability to award resource extraction rights and contracts (mining and logging) to corporations on Treaty 3 territory.
Grassy Narrows – or Asubpeeschoseewagong First Nation – has been on the front lines of environmental justice and environmental rights for years and has been a community of resistance that other First Nations can look up to.
According to a media statement from Grassy Narrow’s released yesterday, “"This decision is further proof that our concerns are valid and important," said Joseph Fobister, one of the Grassy Narrows trappers who initiated the legal action. "It is sad that Ontario continues to ignore us when we tell them that clearcut logging hurts our people."
“Our community has suffered for too long from the impacts of industry imposed on our people,” said Joseph Fobister. “We cannot allow industry to further damage our way of life and our health by poisoning our water and destroying the forests that we depend on.”
This said, the grand forests of Grassy Narrows are not safe just because their case has made it to the Supreme Court.
Even as this issue will be heard in Supreme Court, the Ontario government has shown no sign of stopping its resource extraction on Treaty 3 territory and is currently in the process of seeking input for a new ten year Forest Management Plan for Grassy Narrows Territory.
This could include large clear-cuts of forests on Grassy Narrows’ territory against the will of the Grassy Narrows' community. This new plan is scheduled to take effect in April 2014.
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