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Ontario fails to respect the right to water with approval of logging plan

Grassy River Run

The Council of Canadians is disappointed that the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change has approved the resumption of logging at the Grassy Narrows First Nation (also known as the Asubpeeschoseewagong First Nation as it is traditionally called in Anishinaabek).

CBC reports, “The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry had approved a new forest management plan in 2013 that includes cutting trees on the First Nation’s traditional territory. But the community, already a victim of historic mercury poisoning from a nearby pulp mill, was seeking a more thorough examination of the link between logging and mercury in the environment. …Eleven months later, on Dec. 22, 2014, the First Nation in northwestern Ontario [near Kenora] received a response saying the ministry was rejecting the request.”

In a media release issued by the Grassy Narrows First Nation, Chief Roger Fobister Sr. says, “I am disheartened by this hurtful decision. It seems that our health and our culture do not matter to the government as they attempt to force their clearcut plans on us. The only honourable way forward here is to work together to gain our agreement before our land and water are used.”

When the logging plan was approved last year – on December 23, 2013 – the Grassy Narrows First Nation stated, “The plan sets out a schedule to clearcut much of what little mature forest remains on Grassy Narrows Territory after decades of large scale industrial logging. Clearcut logging elevates mercury levels in fish – deepening the tragedy caused when 20,000 lbs of mercury poison were dumped into Grassy Narrows’ river by a paper mill upstream in the 1960’s. This logging will further erode the Aboriginal and Treaty Rights of the community which depends on the forest to sustain their families and to practice their culture through fishing, hunting, trapping, medicine harvesting, ceremony and healing for all generations.”

The Council of Canadians began working in solidarity with the Grassy Narrows First Nation in April 2010 when Maude Barlow spoke at a public forum in Toronto and participated in their annual River Run event. We have been at all the subsequent River Run marches, including the most recent one in July 2014. In June 2012 we joined with the Chiefs of Ontario and Amnesty International in an Ottawa Citizen op-ed demanding that the premier respect the rights of the people of Grassy Narrows, and in August 2013 we again joined with allies and called on Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne “to a make a clear and unequivocal commitment that the province will respect the wishes of the people of Asubpeeschoseewagong (Grassy Narrows) that no new logging permits be issued in their traditional territory”. In September 2014, Judy Da Silva, a Grassy Narrows member and activist, shared her experience of water contamination at a Blue Planet Project convened gathering of water justice activists from around the world in Toronto.

Barlow says, “The people of Grassy Narrows continue to suffer the effects of the mercury contamination of their rivers and streams which was first discovered more than forty years ago. Industrial clear-cut logging has not only destroyed trap lines and wiped out medicinal plant picking areas, it has almost certainly also contributed to new mercury leaching into their rivers and streams. The tragedy at Grassy Narrows will be repeated unless we respect that clean water is a human right.”

For numerous Council of Canadians blogs about the situation at Grassy Narrows, please click here.

Photo: On April 7, 2010, Council of Canadians water campaigner Meera Karunananthan spoke at a River Run rally at Queen’s Park in Toronto in support of the Grassy Narrows First Nation.