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Hunger strike for Grassy Narrows after report hidden by Ontario government comes to light

This morning the Grassy Narrows (Asubpeechoseewagong) First Nation and the Chiefs of Ontario held a press conference regarding the province’s decision to push ahead with clearcut logging at all costs on Grassy Narrows traditional territory and hide a 100 page report about the effects of mercury poisoning on the community.

The residents of Grassy Narrows First Nation have suffered for decades from the effects of mercury poisoning after 10 tonnes of neurotoxins were released in the area.  Despite this unacceptable situation, multiple provincial governments (including the current Wynne government) have failed to act.

At the press conference Steve Fobister Sr, the former Treaty #3 Grand Chief, announced an immediate hunger strike until the provincial government acts. He stated today, “I’m dying anyway, one piece at a time,” as he sufferers from ALS from mercury poisoning. Like too many people in his community, Fobister is dying and has severe disabilities, but successive governments just don’t care because of what appears to be no other reasoning than these being Indigenous people. 


Former Grassy Narrows Chief Steve Fobister Sr will begin a hunger strike for justice for mercury survivors at Queen’s Park in Toronto on Tuesday, July 29th. Supporters are invited to join Steve at Queen’s Park starting 12pm, Tuesday. Please bring your own lawn chairs. Mr Fobister is quite sick, and the hunger strike will take an immediate toll on his health and life.  This morning (7/29/2014) Mr Fobister did an interview on the hunger strike, watch here.

First Nations leaders stated today that a report about the effects of the poisoning was never made public. A 2010 report, entitled “Literature Review: The Impact of Mercury Poisoning on Human Health,” was commissioned by the Mercury Disability Board, yet kept hidden from those involved, claims Roger Fobister Sr., chief of Grassy Narrows First Nation.

Stan Beardy, Regional Chief of the Chiefs of Ontario continued to state his ‘full support for the people of Grassy Narrows and questioned why the Wynne government won’t acknowledge mercury poisoning exists, people are dying’.  Treaty #3 Grand Chief Warren White stated ‘its time the government reconciles and deal with the genocide upon our people’.

For those who have mercury poisoning and the horrors that accompany it, if you are lucky enough to get recognized for compensation from an agreement reached in 1985, it is based on a point system for the severity of symptoms. However, the three-decade-old agreement has no provision to adjust the payments for inflation.  For someone in Steve Fobister Sr’s case this is around $250 per month or $8.22 a day.  This doesn’t cover costs for follow up medical appointments and travel to Winnipeg, the loss of the ability to work, and the awful suffering that is endured. The Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) does not provide medical transportation in mercury related cases and the Mercury Disability Board only pays a one-time deal for mercury examination, not follow-ups.  The people have Grassy Narrows have asked the provincial government to establish a mercury treatment centre in Kenora, but unsurprisingly this has fallen on deaf ears. 

CBC reports, “The disability board was created in the 1980s after Wabaseemoong Independent Nations and Grassy Narrows negotiated an out-of-court settlement with Ottawa, Ontario and two paper companies for all claims due to mercury contamination. Representatives from Ottawa, Ontario and Wabaseemoong and Grassy Narrows sit on the board, but Roger Fobister said First Nations representatives knew nothing about 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 follow-up of these communities from that time forward, and assistance with respect to health and nutrition,” the report said.

While the province claims that -although the report is not public- they did ‘discuss’ it at one open house at Grassy Narrows with those in attendance, it seems suspect when the leadership of Grassy Narrows is saying they were never given this information.

Yet, in another case of clear racism to further colonial interest, the province of Ontario and the federal government have denied people have been poisoned by substantial levels of mercury. “How are we supposed to know about this report if the government keeps it to themselves? We are reacting to the same amazement as anyone else would.”

The reason this report was not public and shared with the people whose health is at stake is because it proves what the people of Grassy Narrows have known and suffered from for years.

The report highlighted the “urgent need” to improve the general health of those from the two communities. CBC News states the report concludes, “There is no doubt that there was high mercury exposure in these two communities in the late sixties and early seventies…There is no doubt that at these levels of exposure many persons were suffering from mercury-related neurologic disorders… There should have been extensive examinations and follow-up of these communities from that time forward, and assistance with respect to health and nutrition.” The report also suggests that mercury poisoning continues to affect people in Grassy Narrows and Wabeseemoong First Nations and that they are not receiving adequate medical care. “We…want to highlight the urgent need to improve the general health of the two communities as the health status of the participants was clearly poor,” the authors wrote. “The rate of residents reporting neurological symptoms was very high for such a small population.”

Even with the damning evidence in this report which was shamefully hidden by the provincial government, it relied on old science and since this time it has been documented that people can be impacted at much lower levels of mercury than the report assumed.

In 2010, it was reported a study by Japanese scientist Dr. Masazumi Harada that indicated 79 per cent of 187 people in the area tested in 2002 and 2004 had or may have had Minimata disease, a condition arising from exposure to methylmercury.  Dr. Harada first visited the Indigenous communities of Grassy  Narrows and Whitedog in 1975.  He found people with mercury levels over 3 times the Health Canada limit in Grassy Narrows, and 7 times the limit in Whitedog.  When he returned in 2004 he found that 43% of his original Grassy Narrows patients were dead, including all those who had mercury levels above the Health Canada guidelines in 1975.

Neither the federal or provincial government has recognized the case of mercury poisoning and maintains that the symptoms could be from other causes. In, “the 50 years since the province allowed 10 tonnes of mercury to be dumped into the Wabigoon River… It is even more shocking that this river has never been cleaned up… In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency advise that any spill larger than 2 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, tonnes of mercury can be put into river systems with little concern about cleanup, remediation and human health – apparently.” 

If the Wynne government’s predatory push to clear-cutting more land is allowed, more mercury will be released into the food chain.  As was previously mentioned, “The Whisky Jack Proposal and the logging permits handed out by the Wynne government will see industrial logging using 100% clear cuts, some of which are within one kilometer of the reserve boundary and ‘within a stone’s throw of the English River.’ Another clear cut planned is ‘79 square km, nearly the size of pre amalgamation Toronto (97 sq km).’”   Experts state that “When the forest is clear cut, mercury leaches out of the soil and runs off into local lakes and rivers, and once there it gets magnified as it moves up the food chain. So the fish that Grassy Narrows eat can have mercury levels one million times (greater) than the water they swim in.”

Former chief Steve Fobister Sr stated that Grassy Narrows residents continue to fish and hunt in the area as it is the traditional way of life. “They bring home fish to eat. Based on today’s food and gas prices, and the fact there is 80-per-cent unemployment, people will eat the fish and go to the bush and shoot moose to supplement the table… That is our lifestyle and our cultural foods. We aren’t in a position to stop the people. Parents will fish to feed their children.”

The expert report concludes “There is no doubt that at these levels of exposure many persons were suffering from mercury-related neurologic disorders.”  Further, the report indicates that the mercury problem in Grassy Narrows is ongoing due to the long term impacts of past exposure, current instances of high exposure, and the potential for impacts on fetuses and children even at low mercury levels.

Judy DaSilva, recipient of the Michael Sattler Peace Prize, mother of five children, and a daycare administrator in Grassy Narrows, states that, “I cry when I see that every year babies are born sick in our small community,” and, “Instead of helping us, Ontario is planning another decade of industrial clearcut logging on our homeland that will further poison our fish and our people with mercury.”

Grassy Narrows is demanding that government:

1.      Apologize, and take responsibility for allowing mercury to poison people in Grassy Narrows.

2.      Compensate all mercury survivors, and make sure that they have quality health care.

3.      Clean up the river.

4.      Do not allow clearcut logging that will release more mercury.

#FreeGrassy  #RiverRun

Do you support Grassy Narrows in protecting their health, water, and treaty rights? Come walk in solidarity with Grassy Narrows in Toronto on July 31 at the River Run and hear Stephen Lewis speak with Grassy Narrows in Toronto on July 29.  Now more than ever we need to tell the provincial government their plans are cruel, criminal and unacceptable.  Please come and make your voice heard. 


For more information on Grassy Narrows see:


Grassy Narrows still looking for justice

Clearcuts poison fish: Grassy Narrows ‘River Run 2014’

Grassy Narrows legal case against clearcut logging and respect for Treaty Right begins at the Supreme Court of Canada

Premier Wynne: Give Grassy Narrows A Mercury Free Future For Christmas

We’ve got a few questions about Grassy Narrows

Grassy Narrows requests environmental assessment of logging plan

Grassy Narrows To Resume Blockage If Clear-Cut Logging Operation Starts