It is not too late to join the many voices from across Ontario and Canada to tell the Premier that the people of Grassy Narrows deserve justice.
The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources’ decision for the ‘2012-2022 Forest Management’ plan for the Whiskey Jack Forest is scheduled for December 23rd, 2013. While Premier Wynne has talked about rebuilding Ontario’s relationship with Grassy Narrows and ‘getting it right’, little in the way of substantive consultation in good faith has occurred so far from the province. The Premier and MNR’s decision is a chance – after countless years of predacious resource policy and toxic poisoning – to respect the basic humanity of the people of Grassy Narrows and share in the stewardship of the environment. The Council of Canadians urges the Premier to do the only reasonable and ethical thing, cancel the draft plan.
The Grassy Narrows First Nation (or Asubpeeschoseewagong First Nation as it is traditionally called in Anishinaabek) and its community members have been involved in the longest running indigenous blockade in Cananda for over 10 years; but, the history of injustice, colonialism, and contempt for the community is much longer.
From 1962 to 1970, the Dryden Chemicals Inc paper mill, dumped 20,000 pounds of mercury (with consent and permission from the Province of Ontarion) into the English-Wabigoon River. This pollution has had devastating effects on the communities of Quibell (the Wabauskang First Nation), Asubpeeschoseewagong (Grassy Narrows First Nation) and Wabaseemong (Whitedog First Nation). Further, airborne emissions of mercury from the company continued to be released until October 1975. While it has been nearly 40 years since this contamination ended, the long term effects of mercury poisoning (Minamata Disease) have been devastating on the local communities. Studies have revealed that health issues related to exposure from methyl-mercury are exceptionally prevalent in Grass Narrows people (79% in one study conducted from 2002-04 [The government has been systematically arguing against the results of the study]).
With the Whisky Jack Forest the struggle is not simply in regards to logging rights, but also with the mercury in the contaminated soil. The Provincial Government proposal would see expanded clear cutting, leaving erosion to bring contaminated sediment into the local rivers. Chief Fobister has stated, “New clearcut logging will bring even more mercury into our river and our food chain, further prolonging and exacerbating this avoidable tragedy. We condemn such processes and plans.” Echoing this sentiment Maude Barlow has attested that,
“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 recognize that access to clean water is a human right.”
Despite the continued objection and the lack consent from Grassy Narrows First Nation, the Ontario government has chosen to move the Whisky Jack Proposal forward. The Proposal 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).’ While the Grassy Narrows First Nation has will have their Supreme Court of Canada challenge regarding Ontario’s authority to issue logging permits on its traditional territory heard, continued pressure on the Provincial Government is needed. While it may seem axiomatic that clear cutting for another decade will only exacerbate current problems, it remains unclear if Premier Wynne will make the self-evident decision. Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister says,”Premier Wynne, it is within your power to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated at the expense of another generation of Grassy Narrows children… I call on you to ensure that never again will Ontario attempt to force decisions on our people and our lands.”
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