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Free Grassy Narrows

Jesse McLaren

July 30, 2014

Yesterday hundreds filled an auditorium at Ryerson University to hear about the fight for justice at Grassy Narrows and to build for tomorrow’s River Run.
As Grassy Narrows Clan Mother Judy Da Silva summarized, “We’ve been poisoned since the 1950s, it didn’t come out until the 1970s, and now it’s 2014. Our people are being destroyed, our way of life is being destroyed.” According to Steve Fobister, an elder and former chief who is affected by mercury poisoning and started a hunger strike, “I’m suffering and young people are suffering while politicians continue to play political and legal games.”
Willful ignorance by a settler government
Decades ago a paper mill dumped 10 tonnes of mercury into the river that feeds Asubpeeschoseewagong First Nation (also known as Grassy Narrows), a community of 1600. The government has never apologized, compensated, or cleaned-up the contamination, and instead suppressed a 2010 report on the impacts of mercury poisoning.
According to the report, “There is no doubt that at these levels of exposure many persons were suffering from mercury-related neurologic disorders. Following the results of exposure and effects in 1975, as well as earlier mercury in blood monitoring study conducted by Health Canada since 1970, there should have been extensive examinations and followup of these communities from that time forward, and assistance with respect to health and nutrition,”
As Warren White, Grand Chief Treaty 3, said at a press conference the previous day “A genocide on people in Canada is very wrong. When they can’t eat the basic foods that they have lived on—the fish and wildlife—it is an infringement on treaty rights and way of life. I call on the federal government and Ontario government to acknowledge that there are serious problems in their own backyard. They react to all these wars across the seas with millions and millions and millions of dollars, and they can’t even recognize a report again that’s sitting on the shelves of their government bureaucracies.”
As writer and activist Leanne Simpson explained, “We have more than enough research. The problem is not lack of knowledge but willful ignorance by settler government.”
Stephen Lewis recounted debates in the Ontario legislature in the 1970s against the mercury poisoning, and the ongoing lack of investigations and consultations. He described the ongoing lack of justice as “an extension of a pattern of behavior that is criminal.”
In addition to mercury poisoning the community is facing clear cutting, which their chief Roger Fobister described as “making parking lots out of our aboriginal homeland.” Recently the Supreme Court of Canada sided with the Ontario government’s plans to continue clear-cutting, in violation of aboriginal land and treaty rights.
Since 2002 Grassy Narrows have resisted some of the largest logging companies and the government that supports them. As Leanne Simpson highlighted, “People of Grassy Narrows are not victims. They have undertaken research; participated in consultations; protested with allies; organized and maintained the longest logging blockade in Canadian history; fought to defend their rights in courts; organized workshops and teach-ins; continued to sing, dance, hunt, fish and trap; and now one of their cherished elders is on hunger strike.”
Despite the Supreme Court decision the resistance continues. As a Grassy Narrows community member explained, “We didn’t lose anything. This isn’t the end of the road. It’s everybody’s responsibility, not just us. We all have to stand up together.” Grassy Narrows is demanding an end to unwanted logging and real action on mercuty poisoning.
Join the River Run tomorrow, July 31: starts at 12pm at Grange Park (317 Dundas St West, near Osgoode station), ends at Queen’s Park. For more information visit

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