The double standard at the heart of Canadian policy towards First Nations was on display last Thursday at Queen's Park in Toronto. Activists spurred by ongoing inaction by the Ontario government on the mercury poisoning of Grassy Narrows First Nation, dumped a barrel of "toxic" sludge in front of Queen's Park and roped it off as a hazardous site.
Within minutes, fire trucks arrived to investigate the mystery substance. Within another few minutes, sirens blaring, the hazardous materials unit arrived. Police and security moved onlookers away for their own "safety." Compare this to over 40 years of criminal inaction in response to the known 9,000 kg of mercury dumped in the Wabigoon-English river system, the main source of water, food and culture for Grassy Narrows First Nation.
The activists held a banner that asked, "When will you clean it Wynne?" referring to Premier Kathleen Wynne, who has dragged her feet on responding to the growing demand for action.
Earlier in June in Toronto, over 1,000 people took part in the annual River Run protest, led by 40 members of Grassy Narrows First Nation. Asked about ongoing inaction by the provincial government, Grassy Narrows activist Judy DaSilva said "We are not valuable enough to be considered. We, as Indigenous people, are expendable. And that's why the poison is allowed to be still in the river. Money is more important than us."
Kathleen Wynne has justified her government's criminal inaction by saying that the science of cleaning up the river is unclear. Yet a report of experts released May 30 says the river can be cleaned. As lead author John Rudd stated, "It has been frustrating. We made these recommendations in the 1980s and our report was put on the shelf."
As well, in response to the report, CBC noted that "environmental scientists determined that current mercury levels in the waters around where people in Grassy Narrows catch and eat fish suggest there is an unknown source of mercury contributing to the problem." Which points to further criminal inaction by the Wynne government. A recent Toronto Star investigation revealed that Wynne's government ignored a report they received seven months ago from retired labourer Kas Glowacki, stating that 50 drums of mercury were haphazardly dumped into a pit near a Dryden pulp and paper plant more than 40 years ago. It appears this dump has not been investigated and Wynne is only now talking about responding to this after a public outcry.
At last year's River Run launch, Grand Chief of Treaty 3 Warren White said, "A genocide on people in Canada is very wrong. When they can't eat the basic foods they've lived on, the fish and wildlife, it's an infringement of treaty rights and a way of life… The reactions of these governments when it happens away from our communities is very swift. It's time that the federal government and the Ontario government reconcile and deal with the serious matter of a genocide on people."
The action at Queen's Park is part of a growing movement to bring justice to the people of Grassy Narrows who have suffered horribly for generations due to callous disregard by the provincial government. On National Aboriginal Day, the Public Service Alliance of Canada launched a "Thirsty for Justice" campaign for clean drinking water for First Nations communities, highlighting the situation in Grassy Narrows (see video below). As PSAC Aboriginal Rights officer Michael Desautels stated, "We are all treaty people, and have the responsibility to live up to the commitment made in those treaties."
Keep up with the campaign at freegrassy.net