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Sudbury chapter mourns the suicide of deeply-caring forest defender

Barbara Ronson-McNichol (in foreground holding the blue case).

The Council of Canadians Sudbury chapter is mourning the death of Benny Forest defender Barbara Ronson-McNichol.

An outdoor ceremony for Ronson-McNichol, who died on Wednesday March 22, was held at the Cartier Community Centre on Sunday March 26.

The Sudbury Star reports, “A ceremonial fire was lit in Cartier after her death and was kept burning for four days, noted [fellow activist] Anna Harbulik, ‘so Barb has completed her spirit journey now’.  [Friend] Will Cribbs [added] that her spirit lives on. ‘She has empowered all of us’, he said. ‘Her energy is still with us.'”

The article adds, “Penny Earley, of the Sudbury chapter of the Council of Canadians, was moved by Ronson-McNichol’s spirit. ‘It was her gentleness and sincerity that came through to me’, she said. ‘And how deeply she felt for this forest.'”

The newspaper also notes that Mary Wideman, a friend and supporter, said the death was neither suspicious nor accidental. Wideman says, “One of the sisters is a grief counsellor and she made it clear it wasn’t an accident. I’m sorry if that is upsetting for some of you, but in terms of promoting mental health, I don’t think it helps to hide what happened and not mention suicide.”

Ronson-McNichol had been arrested on Monday March 20 for blocking a logging road with a tent and and a car.

She had been trying to stop the logging of the Benny Forest, which is located approximately 60-kilometres north of Sudbury. The forest was also being sprayed with a glyphosate defoliant. Last September, Ronson-McNichol had stated, “This [logging] will dishonour [my husband] Clyde’s ancestors who are buried there. It will further ruin the habitat for bears and all Indigenous species who depend on a healthy forest for their lives. It will close our business, Camp Eagle Nest, that is making an effort to pass on our culture to the younger generations.” The forest is also considered to be part of the traditional lands of the Atikameksheng Anishnawbek First Nation.

The newspaper notes, “Ronson-McNichol was kept in jail overnight [after her arrest] and seemed very despondent when she got out to attend the bail hearing, said Howard Wideman, who met her on her release along with Elaine Porter, a sociology professor and member of the local chapter of the Council of Canadians. He presumes the toll of her battle against the logging and spraying activity was finally too much, and it wasn’t helped by the fact that she received discouraging news right after her return to Cartier. ‘On the morning of her death, she heard there were three go-aheads for more forestry’, said Howard.”

Trauma, burnout and depression are a reality in activism and it is important to take care of both ourselves and each other. For information and resources, please note that there is this Activist Trauma Support website.