Grassy Narrows demands Ontario halt clear-cut logging and protect water

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

Photo courtesy of Occupy.com

On July 31, members of the Grassy Narrows First Nation will head to the Ontario Legislative Building in Toronto and are calling on supporters to join them "in a walk for clean water and Indigenous rights." Today, on July 29, there will be a speaking event with Grassy Narrows Clan Mother Judy Da Silva, Grassy Narrows Chief Roger Fobister, writer and activist Leanne Simpson and Stephen Lewis. Here's why:

It is shocking that neither Canada nor the province of Ontario have recognized even one case of mercury poisoning in the 50 years since the province allowed ten tons of mercury to be dumped into the Wabigoon River, which provides numerous communities with water and fish. It is even more shocking that this river has never been cleaned up and continues to provide these communities with water and fish.

In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency advise that any spill larger than two tablespoons of mercury should be reported to the state environmental agency, and it is mandatory to call the National Response Center. But just north of the border, tons of mercury can be put into river systems with little concern about cleanup, remediation and human health -- apparently. Citizens of Grassy Narrows, however, can't afford to ignore mercury contamination.

Grassy Narrows, or Asubpeechoseewagong in Anishnaabe, is located in Treaty 3 territory in northern Ontario. It is one of the communities still facing the impacts of the Dryden pulp and paper mill's reckless disposal of mercury more than a half century after the spill.

A 2012 report found that mercury impacted the health of 59 per cent of the 160 people examined in Grassy Narrows and White Dog First Nations, both of which are located downstream from the paper mill. Even among people between the ages of 21 and 41, 44 per cent of those tested have experienced health impacts from mercury poisoning.

The dangers of mercury poisoning made international headlines from Minamata, Japan, after the Chisso Corporation released large quantities of industrial wastewater into the water supply of a community that relied heavily on fishing to support its economy and local diet. Entire families developed a neurological disorder that impacts muscular coordination and can cause birth defects, now known as Minamata disease.

Japan formally apologized for allowing mercury disposal to devastate community health and the local economy, and Chisso was forced to financially compensate residents suffering from the disease as well as local fishing cooperatives for their losses.

A legacy of abuse -- and resistance

Members of Grassy Narrows and White dog have been demanding similar forms of compensation for those diagnosed with some level of Minamata disease. The Mercury Disability Board in Canada, however, rejected 75 per cent of those applicants who were diagnosed with the disease by Japanese experts. While disappointing, this outcome is not surprising to a community with a long history of colonially imposed residential schools, dams and logging -- known to exacerbate mercury contamination in water systems.

In the 1990s, the provincial government opened up the region's forests -- home to numerous Indigenous communities, including Grassy Narrows -- to clear-cut logging. Logging drove away wildlife and impacted trappers' ability to fish and hunt on their lands, traditional activities which are legally protected through Treaties.

In 2000, three Grassy Narrows trappers -- Joseph Fobister, Andrew Keewatin and Willie Keewatin -- took legal action against the Province for violating their Aboriginal Treaty Rights. Their case dragged on and the community saw it needed to take stronger action. So in 2002, First Nation members set up what was to become one of the longest Indigenous blockades in Canadian history.

Speaking tours, rallies, educational campaigns and petitions have all helped the community gain widespread support for its court case and blockade. In the meantime, Grassy Nations has successfully forced numerous companies to stay off its territory. Forestry giant Abitibi-Bowater surrendered its forestry license in 2008 and large-scale clear-cuts have stopped, for now. Domtar, the largest office paper producer in North America, and Boise Inc. have committed not to source wood from Grassy Narrows's traditional territory.

Fighting to keep their forests

But the community's fight is far from over. The high-profile case known as Keewatin v. Ontario (Natural Resources) was originally closed in 2011 when Ontario Superior Court Justice Sanderson ruled in favor of the community, saying that Aboriginal Treaty rights to hunt and trap supersede the Province's rights to resources on the Nation's land. But the Province has continued to develop a ten year Management Plan for logging in the Whisky Jack Forest where Grassy Narrows is located, in disregard of the ruling.

Strange, right? Yes, but it also made the Province's next move very clear.

Two years after what seemed like a "win" for Grassy Narrows in the courts, the Province of Ontario appealed the 2011 ruling, the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned it, and just last week the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favor of Ontario. The Province now proceeds with its plans for another decade of clear-cut logging on Grassy Narrows Territory. What does that mean for Grassy?

It means the fight is once again heating up. Now that the case is out of the courts, members of the community have hit the streets. At the end of July, members of Grassy Narrows will take their demands for justice to the Provincial legislature for the 4th biannual River Run -- an event in Toronto in which the community has held past speaking engagements alongside high-profile speakers like Lee Maracle, Maude Barlow, Judy Rebick and the late Dr. Masazumi Harada -- a Japanese expert on Minamata Disease.

In 2012, the community held a traditional Fish Fry where they invited provincial politicians to taste some of the fish from the Wabigoon River -- which, in case they needed a reminder, has yet to be cleaned up. Only two of the invited politicians attended the Fish Fry. One, Kathleen Wynne, then the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, spoke with community members and said publicly that she would visit the community, promising to rebuild Ontario's relationship with Grassy Narrows.

Now Kathleen Wynne is the Premier of the Province and Grassy Narrows is calling on her to cancel new plans for clear-cut logging on Grassy Narrows territory and to protect the water. The Premier is being given another opportunity to listen to the demands of the community -- this time, with even more power and influence to change the Province's role and take steps towards resolving the situation.

To get involved, lend support or find out more about Grassy Narrows and the upcoming River Run, visit here.

This article first appeared on Occupy.com and is reprinted with permission.

Photo courtesy of Occupy.com

Further Reading

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.